DO LORD REMEMBER ME Next time you hear some guy bitching about how there’s no good theater in L.A., hogtie him, toss him into your car and drive straight to the Raven Playhouse for Wilson Bell’s staging of Do Lord Remember Me; that ought to shut him up. James de Jongh’s historical musical consists of the authentic oral histories of former slaves, woven together with Negro spirituals. The cast is composed of five actors who play multiple parts. There are no extraneous actors in the cast, and the set and lighting reflect that same minimalism. Aside from the rare, well-placed flash of red, lighting designer Christopher Singleton refrains from fancy effects. James Esposito’s set consists of only three chairs and a box. All this economy allows for the stories to take center stage. I was wishing that Arthur Alonzo Richardson, as Slave, would never leave the stage. His ability to inhabit each of his characters is incomparable, and his soulful performance is tempered by touches of playfulness, even in the darkest scenes. With such heavy subject matter, it’s amazing that this production is so much fun. Despite the immeasurable pain these ex-slaves endured, the final, prevailing sentiment is not bitter, but grateful, that “God done spared a few o’ us to tell da tale.” CHROMOLUME THEATRE COMPANY at the RAVEN PLAYHOUSE, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 1. (310) 315-3537. (Stephanie Lysaght)

NIGHTHAWKS starts with the striking tableau straight out of the 1940s diner in Edward Hopper’s titular painting (set by Donna Marquet). From there, playwright Douglas Steinberg brings the characters to life, feeding crumbs of exposition that slowly draw back a curtain of mystery on his moody reflection on life, self-worth, romance and mortality. The play steadily escalates from Pinter-like stasis, with its subterranean menace, to a melodrama involving beef carcasses and the Mob. The schematics of Steinberg’s play sometimes strain credibility, but his dialogue crackles, as does the acting. This is perhaps director Stefan Novinsky’s best work so far: The production’s stylization is eerily taut and consistent, while the production elements, from Rand Ryan’s lighting to Michael Roth’s original music, create a kind of cinematic action from the beautifully composed stage pictures. The production features Dan Castellaneta, Dennis Cockrum, Brian T. Finney, Joe Fria, Kelly Karbacz, Colette Kilroy and Morgan Rusler. CENTER THEATRE GROUP at the KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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