THE AMERICA PLAY Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks places Abraham Lincoln, a recurring figure in her plays, at the center of a surrealistic re-examination of American history that is at once whimsical, absurd and poetic. The Foundling Father (Harold Surratt) is a gravedigger who so resembles Lincoln that he becomes obsessed with him and leaves his family behind to become a vaudeville-style Lincoln impersonator who pretends to get shot night after night. In the second act, after his death, his wife, Lucy (J. Nicole Brooks), and son, Brazil (Darius Truly), find themselves in a great hole (a replica of the Great Hole of History), digging for artifacts from the patriarch’s life and simultaneously exhuming the ghosts of America’s racial and political history. Nancy Keystone’s direction does a good job of physicalizing the jazzlike rhythms of the piece’s language, and her scenic design embodies the metaphor of a space that is nowhere and everywhere using a black, dirtlike substance to blanket the stage and bury many of the Foundling Father’s artifacts. Truly gives an energetic performance, while Brooks and Surratt are competent in their roles. While engaging, the play may be frustrating for some as the story leaves the audience with more questions than answers. THE THEATRE @ BOSTON COURT, 70 N. Mentor Ave, Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (626) 683-6883. (Mayank Keshaviah)

MAN.GOV Shem Bitterman’s drama, set during the buildup to the second U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, studies the predicament of a senior-level government arms inspector, Dave G. (Christopher Curry), who finds himself in the precarious and demoralizing position of having to report on the possibility that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction, though Dave’s found no evidence to support that conclusion. When, after decades of working quietly in the trenches, he speaks his mind to a Bob Woodward–like journalist (Robert Cicchini), the ensuing maelstrom crashes in on Dave and his family. Because the play has its mind so firmly made up about what’s true and what isn’t, its potential to seriously examine multiple realities yields to a somewhat schematic morality play. Steve Zuekerman’s spartan staging, however, plays to Bitterman’s strengths — the smart, lean writing and the perversely honest relationships among family and rivals. See Stage feature next week. Circus Theatricals at THE HAYWORTH, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 18. (323) 960-1054 or (Steven Leigh Morris)

NIGHTINGALE On a trip back to her London home, Lynne Redgrave once stopped at the cemetery where her maternal grandmother is buried and found to her dismay that acid rain had erased the headstone’s inscriptions. Redgrave’s delightful solo show begins in this graveyard, where she masterfully creates a tragic-comical story by reconstructing, from family tales and her imagination, the life of this Edwardian matriarch whom she calls Mildred. “She was not a good granny,” Redgrave states matter of factly, and in the following scenes we learn of a terminally insecure girl-child who prayed to God that menses would go away, who feared spinsterhood at 17, who was teased by her sisters, and who finally got a husband. But like many of the women of the age, Mildred’s married life was more like a prison of meaningless rituals, emotional vacuousness, sexual repression and petty bourgeois concerns, all of which, toward play’s end, have taken their toll on this engaging woman. (“[Marriage] seemed like a good idea until it happened.”) Though some of the material is a tad banal, this is vastly outweighed by Redgrave’s formidable prowess as a performer and storyteller who skillfully plumbs the emotional and psychological depths of her character under Joe Hardy’s smart direction. Tobin Ost’s attractive fairy tale–inspired panels provide an ideal complement. MARK TAPER FORUM, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; mats Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m. (213) 628-2772. (Lovell Estell III)

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