Writer-director John DiFusco's revival of his Vietnam drama Tracers impressed Paul Birchall enough to earn it this week's Pick. For all new reviews and stage listings, see below
Breaking up hard to do in this week's stage feature, which compares Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys at the Ahmanson to Paul Coates' The End of It at the Matrix.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS: Scheduled for Publication October 10, 2013:
GO: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
Daniel Keyes' now classic sci-fi story about a mentally challenged man whose IQ skyrockets after a surgical procedure tackles not only how we treat disabled individuals but how ephemeral are those intangible values — love, life, respect — that we cherish. Directed by Matthew McCray, Deaf West Theatre's signed and spoken production of David Rogers' stage adaptation is a mixed bag, its awkward staging offset by Daniel N. Durant's charismatic lead performance as Charlie, along with the capable work of several other performers. Though never quite persuasive as a towering intellect, Durant's overwhelming likability in every scene compels attention. Especially effective are his lovely interchanges with Hillary Baack, exuding her own unpretentious charm as his teacher and vulnerable love interest. The production's weaknesses have to do with the side-by-side placement of signing and speaking performers, a cluttering visual distraction that detracts from the drama. Also confusing is having some performers sign for one character while taking on the role of another, a choice that emanates from the paring of the original 30 person ensemble to 12. McCray's staging of flashbacks behind a scrim adds resonant texture to the narrative, as do lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick's blue, green and gray changes in the backdrop's hue. Bruce Katzman adds a strong presence in his dual role as Charlie's unsentimental doctor and his confounded Dad. Josh Breslow brings intensity and gravitas to the voiced embodiment of Charlie's thoughtful adult self. Deaf West Theatre at the Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Nov. 3. (818) 990-2324. (Deborah Klugman)
Of the 42 plays written by the Hungarian Ferenc Molnár, few have found a permanent foothold on the English-language stage to the degree of this 1910 farce about vanity, artifice and theatrical illusion. It is, in short, an old chestnut of the pre-World War I high style. Unfortunately, director Michael Michetti's otherwise handsome revival (on Tom Buderwitz's elegant set and under Adam Frank's bravura lighting) can't quite blow enough of the dust off Molnár's antique ironies and patent absurdities to ignite more than polite titters. Freddy Douglas is the neurotically insecure Budapest matinee idol convinced that his stage-diva wife (Elyse Mirto) is entertaining ideas of an affair. To trap her, he sets out to seduce her in the guise of a dashing Viennese officer. While Douglas plays his part with flamboyant relish, Mirto's aloof and remote turn results in an unsettling chemistry that only comically catalyzes when the two share a scene with the fine Robertson Dean as “The Critic.” A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena; Sun., Oct. 13 & Nov. 10, 2 & 7 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 1 & 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 2 & 30, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 16, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 30. 626-356-3100, anoisewithin.org. (Bill Raden)
HAUNTINGS: KINETIC THEORY CIRCUS HALLOWEEN EXTRAVAGANZA Kinetic Theory is both a professional theater company and a circus/theater training program. The current offering is essentially a pair of Halloween-themed student productions. The Invitation is a series of short sketches performed by the Youth Circus Troupe, ages 8-13. Because they're kids, the charm and cuteness factors loom large, but they also demonstrate impressive skills in mime, gymnastics, back flips and rope jumping (one scrappy little guy, portraying a rambunctious kitten, manages to jump rope on all fours). Dracula: A Symphony of Terror features the preprofessional troupe, ages 13-25. More polished and versatile, they present a mimed version of the Dracula tale with all the familiar characters. Jonathan arrives at the spooky castle to be greeted by the sinister count and a corps de ballet of athletic female vampires. As with any school show, every student must have a moment in the spotlight, but the resulting repetition tends to slow down the story. Still, there's some fine work here, including skillful comic touches, along with juggling, diving through hoops, trapeze work, contortionists, gymnastics and aerial silk work. Matinee performances include both shows; the evening version offers only Dracula. Kinetic Theory Theatre, 3604 Holdrege Ave., Culver City; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Nov. 2. (310) 606-2617. (Neal Weaver)
MARILYN … MADNESS & ME
Playwright Frank V. Furino is hardly the first to see in Marilyn Monroe's celebrated trajectory of driving ambition and self-destructive insecurity something more darkly emblematic of the decade that marked her demise. And for a while, Furino's Forrest Gump-like fantasy (directed by Joe Leonardo) about a good-natured garage mechanic (Adam Meyer) and his rabbit hole-like friendship with the star (a poignantly convincing Alison Janes) during her final two years seems like an ironic and offbeat tour of some of the 1960s' cataclysmic headlines. While it would be a spoiler to give away more than what amounts to the play's paraphrase of the Denis Leary quip, “the Kennedys — good leaders but bad dates,” suffice it to say that Furino is an ardent believer in the Marilyn mythos. As such, he unfortunately fails to see that rather than the tear-jerking tragedy he thinks it is, his story is the stuff of mordant black comedy. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 20. (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com. (Bill Raden)
GO: THE SUNSHINE BOYS Neil Simon's comedy, starring Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch, at the Ahmanson Thaetre. See theater feature.
PICK OF THE WEEK: TRACERS
In the 1980s, author-director John DiFusco, along with a group of other veterans of the Vietnam War, conceived and executed the play Tracers, channeling their military experiences into what would become one of the most important dramas written about the war. Thirty years on, war is still hell — and DiFusco and a new ensemble, all veterans of more recent wars and military actions, have reprised the work in a powerful new production that's every bit as harrowing as the original. In part that's because the original show's therapeutic underpinnings are downplayed in favor of a more dynamic depiction of what war is actually like on a human level. Tracers centers on the experiences of a group of archetypal soldiers who progress from enlistment to cannon fodder. The actor-veteran cast's military experiences flavor the production in often subtle ways, from the articulated terror of mustering in boot camp, to the crisp and chillingly authentic sequences in which plodding patrols erupt into blood-soaked violence. Particularly compelling turns in DiFusco's vital production are offered by Trevor Scott's likable Everyman soldier Dinky Dau, Jaimyon Parker's world-weary army medic, and Christopher DeVinny's nicely conflicted Professor. Rogue Machine and USVAA Theater in the AMVETS Post II Building, 10858 Culver Blvd, Culver City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 20, 27, Nov. 3, 6 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (855) 585-5185, https://roguemachinetheatre.org (Paul Birchall)
For the debut offering at their new home, the former itinerants of Theatre Unleashed have adapted Steven Dietz's apt drama about relational instability among creative 20-somethings. Despite committed performances, the matrix of unlikely friendships doesn't always gel into credible pairings. Rolling Stone cover boy Cody's (Michael Galante) engagement to pre-fame fiancée Becca (Michelle Hasson) hits the skids when he seeks out Leah (Leah Verrill), a tough-as-nails musician chewed up by the industry a decade before. Becca confides in bridal designer Gretchen (Liesl Jackson) as kleptomaniac public radio DJ Roy (Anthony Rutowicz) tries to woo Holly (Fernanda Vazquez), a callow heartbreaker with a smile like a knife. Galante and Verrill are especially good as the sultry rockers, but Becca's bisexual conversion feels driven solely by dramatic convenience, while Hasson and Jackson's tepid chemistry dampens the romantic tension. Director Scott Marden and Jackson have softened Gretchen's alternative edge, while Hasson struggles to navigate Becca's exasperating vagaries. Theatre Unleashed at the Belfry Stage, Upstairs @ the Crown, 11031 Camarillo St., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 9. (818) 849-4039, theatreunleashed.com. (Jenny Lower)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE: