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 ALL ABOUT WALKEN So these eight Christopher Walken impersonators glide onstage,
strutting and yowling and wearing bad wigs. Most are decent Walkens, and the
best have mastered the piranha stare and elastic enunciation that snaps the
ends of syllables like rubber bands. As the octet — Michael Bayouth, Lily
Holleman, Amy Kelly, Kanzo Lee, Patrick O’Sullivan, Tara Prince, Brennan
Vetter and Troy Vincent — shapeshift through a dozen familiar Great Moments
in Walken (much of which involve violence or the threat of it), it’s clear
that Walken, like Elvis, is easy to imitate but hard to top (though Holleman
and Bayouth come close). Walken’s gleeful insanity is realized when director
O’Sullivan challenges his band of Walkens to new Walken frontiers —
an all-Walken Wizard of Oz , a loopy feminine spray commercial, a Q&A called
“Talking to Walken,” and a threatening karaoke cover of “These
Boots Were Made for…” By the time the Walkens have killed each other
off only to rise as zombies and to groove through a gangly version of “Thriller,”
my ribs hurt so bad, I felt like I’d been mano a mano with Vincenzo Coccotti.
PAUL GLEASON THEATER, 6520 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru March
12. (310) 663-4050. (Amy Nicholson)

THE GOOD STENO is a promising yet disappointing tale about sexual exploitation
and harassment in the garment district of 1946 Manhattan. In the holding cell
of a police station, we meet Gloria (Noelle Arzillo), who is being interrogated
by a detective (Michael Oberlander). An engaging, spirited 16-year old, Gloria
tells of how she dreamed of better things and took a job as a stenographer at
a swimsuit manufacturer owned by the unscrupulous duo of Jack (Louis Giambalvo)
and Morty (co-writer and director Paul Ben-Victor). Jack constantly made passes
at her, while the bombastic and often humorous Morty pimped out his models to
his buyers. Ultimately, Gloria’s outrage over her male bosses’ conduct
becomes the catalyst in a desperate and violent act of defiance that concludes
the play. Co-writers Leah Kornfeld Friedman and Ben-Victor utilize a collage
of flashbacks to tell this story, but the format is poorly constructed and often
confusing, a fault accented by a meandering script. The production features
a few musical and dance arrangements that lack polish. Ben-Victor gives the
standout performance in a good cast. THE HAYWORTH, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.;
Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 25. (800) 838-3006. (Lovell Estell III)

LADYBIRD Set to a Russian hip-hop beat, the U.S. premiere of Vassily Sigarev’s
exploration of disaffected post-communist youth looks like Trainspotting without
the heroin. In an apartment complex aptly named “Dead and Alive,”
Dima (Patrick Mapel) and Slavik (York Griffith) live hand to mouth by stealing
metal grave markers from the neighborhood cemetery and selling them for scrap
on the black market. Complicating this placid existence is Dima’s alcoholic
father (Jeff Perry), who spends most of the play passed out in the adjoining
room. The arrival of neighbor Lera (Sarah Utterback) and her Lolita-esque cousin,
Yulka (Jennifer Sydney), to see Dima off to the war in Chechnya turns an already
tense situation into a Molotov cocktail of desperation and regret. Richard Hoover’s
garage-sale set design establishes an appropriately bleak tone, while Yasen
Peyankov’s adaptation makes the gritty realism palpable. His directions,
however, too often substitute rage for intensity. Perry gives the most nuanced
and interesting performance, making me wish that his character had more stage
time. While similar in theme to Sigarev’s previous play, this latest offering
lacks the emotional heart of Black Milk . Rushforth Productions at THE BOOTLEG
THEATRE, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 17. (323)
769-5245. (Mayank Keshaviah)

LEVIATHAN ’99 Ray Bradbury’s streamlined retelling of Moby-Dick
is set on an outer-space research vessel in the year 2099. With distant galaxies
in his eyes, the youthful Ishmael (David Mauer) signs on as a crew member for
the spaceship Cetus 7, as does his newfound friend, Quell (Patrick Skelton),
a green-skinned alien with the ability to read minds. The mission starts off
with promise, but the crew grows increasingly frustrated with their mysterious
leader, who refuses to leave his cabin. When the Captain (Michael Prichard)
finally emerges and addresses the crew, it’s clear that nothing good will
come from his obsession with the white hot comet that blinded him many years
ago. Under Alan Neal Hubbs’ direction, the opening-night performance was
rocky. Many of the lighting cues were a few seconds late, leaving actors speaking
dialogue in the dark. More noticeably, Prichard, who stepped into the role of
the Captain with one week’s notice, occasionally struggled with his lines.
Nevertheless, Skelton brings a sense of dignity to the role of the alien outsider,
and Mauer is fine as the idealistic Ishmael. David Gunn’s moody original
score complements the play, but the same cannot be said of John Edward Blankenchip’s
bland all-silver set and unimaginative costumes. Pandemonium Theater Company
at the FREMONT CENTER THEATER, 1000 Fremont Ave., S. Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 4. (323) 960-4451. (Sandra Ross)

[

LIFE IS A DREAM What a beautiful play, and this world premiere of Nilo Cruz’s
translation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s 1635 masterpiece —
the glory of Spanish classical theater — flows as languidly and smoothly
as a good wine, considering the ornate and baroque richness of the source material.
Polish King Basilio (John de Lancie) imprisons his son, Segismundo (Daniel Breaker)
— rightful heir to the throne — in a cave, because of an Oedipal
prophecy that the child would seize power and unleash evil in the land by first
stepping on his father’s white beard. One day, Basilio tests fate. Among
the play’s first actions, Basilio chooses to release his now grown son
while the king plans to slip away in disguise (echoes of Measure for Measure). However, Basilio will protect the kingdom, allowing for the possibility of
sending the prince back in shackles, by drugging him so that, when he awakens
in the palace, he won’t be able to clearly discern whether his newfound
power is real or a dream. Power comes and goes, nations rise and fall, all in
the blink of an eye. When the young prince stirs from his sleep, all he can
do is rage at the memory of his lost childhood and his abused entitlements.
The rebellions he ignites speak to the eternal verities of falling empires and
of the colonies that rail against them — and of cycles of vengeance that
have fueled civil wars through the millennia. Basilio’s fingers remain
crossed that his son can, one day, behave like a “nobleman,” holding
his power with compassion rather than hoarding it with cruelty. Possibly fearful
of stodginess, director Kate Whoriskey sets the fable on set designer Walt Spangler’s
retro-futuristic landscape of animated mountain caves that spin around the stage
mechanically. The actors look silly dancing and clicking flamenco-style in Ilona
Somogyi’s Star Trek costumes. Probably all they needed was a guitar and
a painted set. The rest is effort and money squandered on special effects, when
the deepest effect comes from the story and its timeless wisdom. De Lancie’s
Basilio oozes charm and a mastery of the language. Less so, the other players
in the large ensemble, from whom the prose sounds overly articulated. SOUTH
COAST REPERTORY, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues., 7:30 p.m.; Wed.-Fri.,
8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru March 11.
(714) 708-5555. (Steven Leigh Morris)

MOONLIGHT Harold Pinter’s 1993 play is pretty much about sleeping in the
bed you’ve made during your life. Here there are two: the deathbed of
a garrulous old man, Andy (Mitchell Ryan), and, across the stage, a foldup mattress
belonging to one of his two estranged sons. Andy spends much of his remaining
time on Earth needling his stoic wife, Bel (Cinda Jackson), about a long-ago
affair he had with her best friend, Maria (Kathryn Harrold) — a woman
who was also Bel’s lover. Triangles have always been Pinter’s favorite
shape, but this 70-minute work merely comes across as a quick proof of the earlier
carnal and power geometries that made him famous. (The Caretaker , Old Times
and Betrayal, to name a few.) Perhaps what’s missing is the familiar
Pinter blend of menace and melancholy — qualities that emerge neither
from Andy’s rambling reminiscences nor from the string of surreal, vaudevillian
conversations held in a seedy bedsit between sons Jake (Russell Milton) and
Fred (Dan Cowan). Nor do they during appearances by Maria, or by an old acquaintance
of Andy’s named Ralph (Paul Jenkins), or by the brothers’ spectral
sister, Bridget (Eliza Dean). Even if this cast’s British accents were
pitch perfect, which they’re not, director John Pleshette’s production
is similarly lacking something. Perhaps Ryan’s dying patriarch isn’t
hard enough, or Dean’s Bridget as ethereal and clear-voiced as she needs
to be in a play that is Pinter at his most ambiguous. LOST STUDIO, 130 S. La
Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 871-5830.
(Steven Mikulan)

MUSIC FROM A SPARKLING PLANET The recently homeless West Coast Ensemble christens
its new Silver Lake space with this charming valentine to childhood hopes as
remembered by three basically decent guys in their mid-30s who have lost their
way. Hoagie (Chris Damiano), Miller (David Kaufman) and Wags (Michael Spellman)
spend an evening at a bar testing each other on TV trivia from their pre-adolescent
days. The joyful recollection of local cartoon hostess Tamara Tomorrow (Kelly
Lloyd) sends them on a trek to find out what happened to the long-ago kiddie-TV
icon. Flashbacks to the 1970s portray the rise and fall of Tamara in partnership
(business and romantic) with television producer Andy (John O’Brien).
Ultimately, the two plays merge to create a very satisfying, sentimental story.
Director Richard Israel’s extremely light touch keeps this confection
of a play engaging and enjoyable with actors who display artful truthfulness
in their performances. Marina Mouhibian’s clunky silver costume for Tamara
is a comic wonder, and Kurt Boetcher’s nonliteral set beautifully evokes
the period with a collage of ’70s furniture pieces. West Coast Ensemble
at LYRIC-HYPERION THEATER, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 1. (800) 595-4849. (Tom Provenzano)

[

RISE AND FALL OF THE CITY OF MAHAGONNY In Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s
epic musical, John Doyle’s staging consists of a series of artful but
static tableaux, which leave Mark Bailey’s evocative and evolving sets,
in conjunction with Thomas C. Hase’s theologically sculpted lighting and
Weill’s very interesting score, to compensate for the paucity of dramatic
interaction in the staging. Somewhere along Route 666, an old truck carrying
crooks on the run (Patti LuPone, Robert Wörle and Donnie Ray Albert) breaks
down. Rather than pan for gold (because that involves work), the trio establishes
a town built on prostitution and gambling. You can tell this is God’s
country — a little joke by atheist Brecht — because a hurricane
that’s devastated the region makes a sharp detour around Mahagonny. By
Act 2, the cloud-riven backdrop is saturated in neon, advertising “loving”
and burgers. Poor Jimmy McIntyre (Anthony Dean Griffey) commits the allegorical,
hangin’ crime of running out of cash. In a throwback to the medieval morality
play Everyman, all who once swore by Jimmy leave him to face the grave alone.
Everyman was gunning for Heaven, but everyone knows that Jimmy’s goin’
nowhere but down. Even his favorite whore, Jenny (Audra McDonald), won’t
lend him $100 to spare his life. The score’s dissonant beauty —
juxtaposed against musical anthems that recall Bach cantatas — has an intensity in Act 2, accompanying pedantic kick-or-be-kicked literary themes
of self-reliance in a heartless economy. (Translation by Michael Feingold.)
LuPone struggles with some of the musical challenges that include melodic climbs
that are like trying to scale Angels Flight in army boots. McDonald’s
voice is as rich and gorgeous as her amply paraded figure. (Ann Hould-Ward’s
post-Charleston-era costumes contain a nice blend of grime and sluttiness.)
Albert is more typical of the leading singers, a large man standing like a block
of stone while emitting a resonant basso profundo in a concert with actors who
move, but don’t really act. Los Angeles Opera at the DOROTHY CHANDLER
PAVILION, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; schedule varies, thru March 4. (213) 972-8001
or www.laopera.com. (Steven Leigh Morris)

ROMEO AND JULIET With Capulets as Republicans, Montagues as Democrats and
their offspring the innocent victims of their vitriol, this stirring production
of Shakespeare’s tragedy epitomizes the Zeitgeist of America’s 21st
century. Keith Mitchell’s set comes plastered with red, white and blue
bunting and recent newspaper clippings. The symbolism that director extraordinaire
Joe Regalbuto and company impart is as clear as a high-def TV newscast. In present-day
Verona, California, Romeo (Matty Ferraro) and his cohorts sport Bush, Cheney
and Reagan masks at the costume ball where fair Juliet (Gina Regalbuto) awaits.
Juliet’s father (Christian Lebano), whose brutality bubbles beneath a
putatively benign surface, sports an American flag pin on the lapel of his somber
blue suit. The cast is superb, as Shaun Baker’s poetic Mercutio, Joshua
Wolf Coleman’s sympathetic Friar Lawrence, and, despite an exaggeratedly
stereotyped accent, Livia Treviño’s lively Latina nurse are joyful
to watch, as are Ferraro and Gina Regalbuto on the balcony and beyond. By play’s
end, it’s hard not to view our star-crossed lovers as stand-ins for the
unwitting dead strewn throughout the world’s killing fields — all
because our major political parties can’t get their shit together. Loaded
Media Productions and Theatre Planners at ART/WORKS THEATRE, 6569 Santa Monica
Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 17. (323) 960-7846. (Martín
Hernández)

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA
WOOLF? In 1962, long before Edward Albee’s The
Goat, came his cat and mouse. Martha and George (Kathleen Turner and
Bill Irwin) flail at each other in marital purgatory for the almost carnal satisfaction
that torture arouses. These are academics, so their wit and barbarism are varsity-level
— rattles in a snake’s tail. Brittle George is a frustrated history professor
(“the shadow of a man flickering around the edges of the house”) at a New England
college; Martha’s the college president’s brash daughter. One morning, between
2 and 3 a.m., an arrogant, young and studly professor of biology (David Furr),
and his mousy wife (Kathleen Early), swing by for cocktails. The event — set
up by Martha’s offstage father — contains a recipe for everyone’s evisceration,
which comes about through a series of party games, ranging from “Hump the Hostess”
to “Get the Guests.” There’s considerable suspense to the raw savagery that’s
supposed to culminate in the play’s actual reason for being — how, in Act 3,
George destroys his and Martha’s imaginary son. This is Albee’s link to the
Theater of the Absurd — going strong in 1962 — which blurs distinctions between
reality and invention into the view that life is so fucked up, the only sanity
we have is from the meaning we create. Anthony Page’s staging — which did just
fine in New York and London, implodes at the Ahmanson: Maybe it’s the huge venue
that forces the actors to amp up the style to sitcom size at the cost of the
play’s innate menace. George and Martha’s games are wildly entertaining in a
warm and fuzzy TV kinda way, so that Act 3 comes off as literary artifice, tagged
on rather than drawn through. Irwin serves up an undeniably magnificent kaleidoscope
of wry twitches and subterranean stratagems. David Furr’s lughead biologist
traverses his descent into drunken hell with pleasing hubris. The women do most
of the damage to this production. Early’s Honey is an overblown comedic belle
leftover from The Dukes of Hazzard,
and Turner’s Martha establishes a gorgeously gregarious presence, which she
then occupies with such flippant delight, her devastation — on which the drama
depends — is a hard sell. The shelf of L.P.’s in John Lee Beatty’s realistic
period set is a marvelous emblem of the times. AHMANSON THEATRE, 135 N. Grand
Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m
(added perf Thurs., March 15, 1 p.m.); thru March 18. (213) 6289-2772. (Steven
Leigh Morris) For
an interview with Albee, see Theater feature
.