BIG DEATH & LITTLE DEATH Strobe lights, a crashingly loud live death metal band, apocalyptic musings and a second act full of false endings make Mickey Birnbaum’s episodic play both intriguing and interminable. Dad (Jeff LeBeau) has returned from the first Gulf War a psychic wreck, which puts him in sync with his dysfunctional Valley family. Mom (Rhonda Aldrich) is his unfaithful wife, daughter Kristi (Jeanne Syquia) keeps a scrapbook full of car-accident photos Dad supplies her from his civilian job, and son Gary (Sean Wing) smokes, snorts and drops drugs as he decides between going to college or destroying the universe (seriously). The teens are the story’s black-hole center, and their lives play out against obsessions with pain and death metal. As a scenarist, Birnbaum displays an imaginative palette for situations, but his suburban fable shows little focus and its metaphors literally get trapped in the family home’s crawlspace. Disjointed speculations about time, space and mortality receive short shrift in favor of stoner humor. The evening invariably unfolds as a series of interchangeable and mostly expendable scenes. The prevailing tone is one of emphatic wonderment, which makes us wonder what this production would have been like if director Larry Biederman had dialed down the performances for a few of the scenes. His design team, though, provides a thoroughly convincing milieu of desolation, from Claire Bennett’s set (car-wreck debris and tract-house innards) to John Eckert’s foreboding light plot to David B. Marling’s jarring sound design. Road Theatre Company at the LANKERSHIM ARTS CENTER, 5108 N. Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru July 21. (866) 811-4111. (Steven Mikulan)

THE GAZILLIONAIRE SHOW Dressed in a white tux with gold lapels and matching shoes, former Cirque du Soleil clown Voki Kalfayan hosts his cabaret, which invites us into a kind of parallel universe that contains little structure and even less point, though it does flirt with notions of money and sex. “What would you do for a dollar?” Kalfayan asked as part of his on-the-fly riffs with the audience. He did get one woman to give him a kiss. Who said money can’t buy you love? During many of his too-many audience interactive segments, ostensibly with the aim of pushing boundaries of protocol, Kalfayan spent considerable time fawning over a young man sitting near the front, rubbing fingers through his hair, massaging his shoulders, etc., while offering mock apologies for being so brazen. There’s a nice running gag by a mock TV newscaster named Christopher Christopher whose video connection keeps dropping, while sidekick Pretty Penny (Anais Thomassian) portrays a squeaky-voiced rag doll secretly in love with our host. Fine backup by the Fish Circus band, but beware of the trombonist who strips down to a gold jock strap and performs impromptu lap dances on unwary patrons. Little of this lit my fire, though a few folk seemed to having a fine time. A few drinks before the show would probably help make some sense of this. M BAR, 1253 Vine St., Hlywd.; Fri., May 25, 10 p.m.; Sat., June 2, 10 p.m. (323) 856-0036. (Steven Leigh Morris)

GEMINI As oddball characters go, only some in Albert Innaurato’s comedy are memorable. It’s a day before Francis’ (Mark Strano) 21st birthday, and friends Randy (Justin Schaefers) and Judith (Amber Krzys) drop in from their highbrow colleges for the occasion. Francis is in the midst of an identity crisis of sorts, and it doesn’t help that his gruff, boisterous Dad (a fine turn by Peter Onorati) and his equally clamant girlfriend, Lucille (Mindy Sterling), show up. This scenario makes for many barbs, verbal one-upmanship, shtick and slapstick — the showstoppers being Francis’ neighbors, the foul-mouthed, lusty Bunny (a hilarious Stephanie Faracy), and her son Herschel (Joel Michaely), who seems to suffer from a multitude of personality disorders. When they aren’t trading insults or meddling in each other’s business, they’re amusing us with their bad table manners. Not much really transpires; Innaurato mines these characters for a lot of laughs, and what plot there is involves Francis’ conflict over being gay and his attraction to Randy. Unfortunately, the gags and nonsense become annoying in Act 2, where the absence of a viable drama makes itself felt. Stan Zimmerman keeps the physical comedy well modulated with fine performances. And Kurt Boetcher’s red brick duplex mockup, complete with picket fence, is beautifully crafted. CELEBRATION THEATRE, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru June 17. (323) 957-1884 (Lovell Estell III)

YELLOW FACE The central character in David Henry Hwang’s new farce is David
Henry Hwang (played by Hoon Lee) facing an identity crisis after presiding
over a casting blunder in his 1993 drama, Face Value. In that debacle,
Hwang's character advocates for a Caucasian-appearing actor to play the
Asian-American leading role in the play’s Boston tryout — on the grounds
that the actor has Chinese ancestry. (All of this comes on the heels of
Hwang’s very loud protests against British producer Cameron Mackintosh using
Caucasian star Jonathan Pryce in a Eurasian role in Miss Saigon’s
Broadway debut.) To avoid appearing as a hypocrite, Hwang’s double trumpets
his young star’s Asian credentials, which turn out to be nonexistent.
However, the fabrication gives the young man (played here by Peter
Scanavino) both a community he loves and a larger sense of purpose. This is
a blazingly candid and almost self-deprecating work in which Hwang’s
portrait of himself underscores his personal contradictions, his
professional failures and a moral core that melts in the heat of ambition.
That portrait is also carved by this country, which has historically
demonized Asians, and continues to do so. This too is on the stage, and
helps explain Hwang’s self-depicted desperation to save his skin. Yet that
very urgency undercuts the authority, if not the integrity, of his evolving
views on identity politics. For this reason, Yellow Face is actually not
about identity politics at all, but about narcissism, about the flower that
grows by the river bank and leans toward the water to gaze upon its own
reflection. As such, it’s a beautiful and truthful slice of theatrical
philosophy about illusion and delusion in the form of a personal
documentary. It’s directed both gently and obviously by Leigh Silverman. But
like Hwang’s actor in Face Value, this play is quite different from what it
claims to be. Center Theatre Group and The Public Theater in association
with East West Players at the MARK TAPER FORUM, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.;
Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru July
1. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Stage feature next week.

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