John Henry Redwood's throwback comedy-drama about a family in 1943 Harlem, The Old Settler at Pico Playhouse, is this week's Pick. Writes Lovell Estell III, “The story of a May-December romance is an old one, but it receives a charming and inventive treatment.”
Also, Deborah Klugman had good things to say about A Midsummer Night's Dream at Theatricum Botanicum in the woods of Topanga Canyon. For all the latest new theater reviews and regional stage listings, see below.
And this week's theater feature takes a look at what an early Tony Kushner play about artists in 1932 Berlin, A Bright Room Called Day, has to say about America in 2013. It plays at The Lost Studio on La Brea, presented by Coeurage Theatre Company.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication September 4, 2013
AUTO PARTS Writer-director Steve Sajich's play consists of four tenuously interrelated scenes, centering on the murder of a hooker. For reasons best known to Sajich, the four scenes are juggled in performance, with the audience deciding what their order will be. But this seems like a mere gimmick, designed to keep us from realizing just how thin and unsubstantial the play is. Two of the scenes, involving a randy, unfaithful husband (Frank Noon), his jealous and frustrated wife (Kate Kelly) and a prostitute (Angela Stern) carry the plot. The other two peripheral scenes concern a father-son team of thieves (John J. Malone and Jack David Frank) who discover the murdered woman's body but can't report it lest it reveal their crime, and a couple of police detectives (Ben Sharples and Deanna Watkins) on a stakeout as part of the murder investigation. The actors acquit themselves well but can't overcome inept dramaturgy. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, S. Pasadena. Fri., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 20. (866) 811-4111, fremontcentretheatre.com (Neal Weaver)
A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY
Tony Kushner's 1985 survey of artists in Weimar Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. Coeurage Theatre Company at the Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.l through Sept. 15. (323) 871-5830. See this week's theater feature.
KLEPTO-MANIA: A NIGHJT OF TIME-TRAVEL, BULLFIGHTING AND LOVE Opening this bill of one-acts is Samantha Macher's “Brechtian comedy,” The Arctic Circle and a Recipe for Swedish Pancakes. Unfortunately, it's a dreadfully unwieldy affair parceled out in 28- plus scenes that chronicle the amorous life and exploits of Elin (Katie Apicella). Narrated by Amy Scribner, it constantly shifts back and forth in time and place, which makes for a theatrical experience that quickly goes from annoying to mind numbing. There are way too many scenes that are nothing more than trifles, and McKerrin Kelly's direction is consistently labored. If there is any redemption, it's in the acting, which isn't bad. Robert Plowman's The Matador manages to be entertaining, in spite of hanging around too long. Directed by Todd Ristau, and spiced with an engaging pinch of camp, it tells the story of a much heralded matador (played with ticklish panache by Mark Ostrander) who gets more than he can handle when he encounters an unusual bull (choreographer Susanna Young) and an admiring female (Emma Sperka). Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., LA., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Sept. 22, kleptotheatreworkshop.com or brownpapertickets.com/even/449039 (Lovell Estell III)
GO: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
As Bottom, performer Katherine Griffith may be the best reason to see this amusing but somewhat quotidian presentation of Shakespeare's seasonal classic. Cast across gender by directors Melora Marshall and Willow Geer, Griffith's likable blowhard garners a plurality of the laughs, along with his proletarian colleagues, whose presentation of Pyramus and Thisby before Theseus' court is this production's comic highlight. By contrast, the antics of Shakespeare's quartet of quarrelsome lovers, which includes Geer as a peevish Helena, are mostly played by-the-numbers and lack a fresh edge. As Titania, Marshall exudes a mercurial flamboyance and a capricious sense of entitlement that has one rooting, ever so momentarily, for Oberon (an attention-commanding Michael McFall). Though I invariably shun the word “adorable,” I have no other description for months-old Collette Keller, who appears as the changeling child, taking her bow with the rest of the ensemble with faint, smiling aplomb. The charm of an outdoor proscenium and the added enhancement of designer Katherine Crawford's costumes, especially for Titania, Oberon and Puck (cross-gender cast Sabrina Frame) help simulate the requisite magic. Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Fri., Sept. 10, 17 & 24, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18 & 25, 3 p.m. (preshow talk Fri., Sept. 24, 7 p.m.); through Sept. 25. (310) 455-3723. (Deborah Klugman)
PICK OF THE WEEK: THE OLD SETTLER John Henry Redwood's bittersweet romantic comedy is set in 1943 Harlem in the comfy home (a handsome set by Thomas Brown) of middle-aged sisters Elizabeth (Ruby Hinds) and Quilly (Jolie Oliver). Elizabeth is dignified and restrained, while her sister is outspoken and nit-picky.These church-going ladies are often like oil and water, but there's an unmistakable sisterly love and devotion that underpins the acrimony. Their bond is tested when Elizabeth decides to take in as a renter the handsome, ultra-countrified Husband Witherspoon (John R. Davidson). He's come up from the South looking for his sweetheart, Lou Bessie (played with sass and attitude by Crystal Garrett), who is only interested in a good time and the man's money. It isn't long before Husband and Elizabeth are tenderly eyeing one another. The story of a May-December romance is an old one, but it receives a charming and inventive treatment by Redwood, and also offers a sobering glimpse into the pre-civil rights-era African-American experience. The outcome is predictable, but this doesn't detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable production with emotionally vibrant performances under the direction of William Stanford Davis. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., W. L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Oct. 27. (323) 960-7712, plays411.com/oldsettler (Lovell Estell III)
WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU: AN EVENING OF ONE-ACT PLAYS
Each of two average, kitchen-sink tragedies, with some levity throughout, take as their focus the troubled relationship between adult daughters and their wayward, alcoholic parents. In You'll Just Love My Dad, written by Stephanie Jones and Peter Schuyler, an old homeless guy breaks into a home and starts snooping around before running himself a bath. When Jennifer (Bree Pavey) arrives home, it doesn't take her long to work out who's responsible, even though she hasn't seen her father, Duke (Wayne Baldwin), for seven years. When her sister Cheryl (April Morrow) shows up, babbling with excitement, the pair clashes on how to deal with dear old annoying Dad. Pavey handles the play's slightly wacky tone by maintaining a nice balance between hysteria and exasperated resignation. Pavey also stars in — and scripted — It Feels Like Her, the second, more in-depth study of a daughter who has given up on her alcoholic mother. Stephanie Jones is great as the flawed parent, especially in a tearful, confessional monologue. Barbera Ann Howard convincingly portrays frail old Grammy. Cameron Hastings Britton is also good in two roles. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, dwntwn.; Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (note: one-hour dinner break between the one-acts); through Sept. 15. (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.com. (Pauline Adamek)
ONGOING SHOWS REGION-WIDE: