Stage Raw: Grease
L.A. WEEKLY THEATER AWARDS TWO WEEKS FROM TONIGHT AT THE EL REY
GREASE at the Pantages
Grease Photo by Joan Marcus
NEW REVIEW GREASE Born of NBC's reality-TV casting competition Grease: You're the One That I Want, this latest take on Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's Broadway-hit malt-shop musical features perfunctory performances by Eric Schneider and Emily Padgett as the star-crossed summer lovers, Danny and Sandy. This may explain why headliner status went to American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, despite his mere cameo appearance. He's the Teen Angel ("teen"? wait, what?) who advises beauty school dropout Frenchy (Kate Morgan Chadwick) to go back to high school. Hicks' turn is actually the most effective part of the show, with him crooning to her swooning, as he descends from above amid wafting curls of smoke -- but that's not saying much. Director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall's staging generally involves the cast just walking around or, worse, sitting or standing in one place as they belt out their numbers. Can we get these kids some roller skates or something? The actors' voices are uniformly strong, though Schneider's is unremarkable, and Padgett often tackles the Olivia Newton-John songs like they're arias. Paul Huntley's wig stylings and Martin Pakledinaz's costume design provide delightfully retro coifs on the ladies and snazzy duds on the dudes, but Derek McLane's cartoon set looks like it was designed by a middle school stagecraft club. And what's with censoring the explicit lyrics? Greased Lightnin' is no longer the car that gets you pussy, it's a "dragon wagon." What the hell does that even mean? Make no mistake, I love Grease, with its timeless plot of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-sluts-it-up-to-get-boy-back, but this not the one you want. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 22. (213) 365-3500. (Derek Thomas)
Reviewed over the weekend: Ray Bradbury's Falling Upward at the El Portal Theatre, Grease at the Pantages; Joy Harjo's Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light presented as part of the Native Voices series at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park; Matthew Goldsby's new musical Makin' Hay at Actors' Co-op; Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep presented by the Ark Theatre at the Hayworth; The Parabox presented by Post Fact Productions at Son of Semele Theater; Theatre Banshee's production of Macbeth, and Christopher Meeks' kidney transplant drama, Who Lives? at the Pico Playhouse
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for March 20-26, 2009
(The weekend's New Reviews are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below . You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's search program.)
Our critics are Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Martin Hernandez, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, Luis Reyes, Sandra Ross and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
OPENING THIS WEEK
BEST WISHES Bill Barker's story of a family's final goodbyes to their mother and their rural Kansas home. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; opens March 21; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 745-8527.
EVERYBODY SAY "CHEESE!" Garry Marshall's Bronx tale of a 1960s middle-aged housewife newly inspired by women's lib. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Toluca Lake; opens March 20; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; Sat., April 11, 4 p.m.; thru April 11. (818) 955-8101.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF The Broadway hit about a Jewish milkman and his daughters, book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; opens March 21; Sat., March 21, 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., March 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; thru April 26. (805) 667-2900.
GHOSTS Henrik Ibsen's indictment of Victorian morality. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; opens March 21; Sat., March 21; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., March 29, 2 p.m.; April 1-2, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 25, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 26, 2 & 7 p.m.; April 29-30, 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., May 9, 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 8. (818) 240-0910.
GOLDFISH World premiere of John Kolvenbach's comedy about two mismatched college students who fall in love. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens March 21; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 5. (714) 708-5555.
HOME SIEGE HOME The Ghost Road Company reinterprets Aeschylus' Oresteia as a trilogy. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; opens March 26; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 461-3673.
JUMPING THE MEDIAN Five new plays by National Poetry Slam grand champion Steve Connell. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens March 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 19, www.plays411.com/jumpingthemedian. (310) 394-9779.
LA RONDE Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 20; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru March 28...
MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's comedy of manners, marriage proposals, and matrimony. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; opens March 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055.
NEW WORKS BY MURRAY MEDNICK Three full-length Mednick works, in rep: Clown Show for Bruno; The Destruction of the Fourth World; and Girl on a Bed. (Schedule varies, call for info.). Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. Fourth Place, L.A.; opens March 26; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 18, www.paduaplaywrights.net. (213) 625-1766.
PHOTOGRAPH 51 Drama over the discovery of DNA, by Anna Ziegler. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; opens March 21; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 663-1525.
THE PROJECTIONIST Michael Sargent's comedy about employee antics at a seedy movie house. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; March 26-28, 8 p.m.; April 2-3, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 4, 7 & 9:30 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.
THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES Moliere's comedy about a man's quest to create the perfect wife by raising her from childhood. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens March 20; Fri., March 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru May 31. (310) 319-9939.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: BEGINNINGS Seven late-night vignettes by Theatre Unleashed. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 21; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 18. (818) 849-4039.
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre creates full-length plays on the fly, all in the style of playwright Tennessee Williams. Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens March 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 26. (800) 838-3006.
TRAGEDY, A TRAGEDY Will Eno's TV-news satire. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; opens March 20; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 18. (866) 811-4111.
THE WAY OF THE WORLD William Congreve's Restoration comedy, updated to modern-day L.A. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 849-4039.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
ELLA Jeffrey Hatcher's musical biography of Ella Fitzgerald, starring Tina Fabrique. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru March 22. (949) 497-2787.
NEW REVIEW GO FALLING UPWARD Ray Bradbury is better known for his formidable achievements in the arena of Sci-Fi fiction, but he's also penned a number of plays, including this charming, comedic fable about the denizens of a tavern in rural Ireland. Heeber Finn's pub is the setting, where a raucous, fun-loving band of Irishmen gather to spin yarns, dance jigs, play music, sing and of course, "wash their tonsils." As the play opens, the fellows sing a charming medley of Irish songs while bending elbows under the watchful eye of Finn (Mik Scriba). The music and singing are what gives this play its strange magic. Nothing happens in the way of a plot. Garrity (the masterful Pat Harrington) acts as a narrator and guide of sorts, the men share a hilarious moment at the gravesite of a wine merchant, where, after toasting the deceased, they piss on his marker, and there is a minor fuss after a traffic accident. A strange contingent of tourists arrives in Act 2, which causes some soul searching. You might say that the playwright wins the pot with a flat hand here. The music is superb; Jeff G. Rack's tavern set is artfully crafted, and director Tim Byron Owen creates an atmospheric charm that's irresistible. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 5. (818) 508-4200. (Lovell Estell III)
Falling Upward Photo by Ed Krieger
GO FROST/NIXON After Stacy Keach as Richard M. Nixon finished a late night phone 1977 call to interview-host David Frost (Alan Cox) in what could be called a sculpted aria of paranoid ramblings, I heard a voice from the row behind me: "That was the best scene in the movie." It's an inevitable consequence of timing that Center Theatre Group's production of Peter Morgan's play, coming two years after it closed on Broadway with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, would arrive so recently after Ron Howard's much heralded film, which is so fresh in the memories of movie-goers. It's equally inevitable, and tedious, that people will say, "The film was so much better than the play." I'm holding an "advantage" of not having seen the film, though I did see Langella and Sheen in the Broadway production, replicated at the Ahmanson with the same design team and director (Michael Grandage). The experience is a a bit like seeing a familiar movie in a different city, with the slightly surreal impression that the actors are not quite the same.Morgan's play is David and Goliath saga of a highly facile TV entertainment-host landing a coveted four-part interview with a wounded giant ex-president. It's a game of bait and debate, requiring momentous preparation by each side, with its teams at war over the very high stakes of legacy. And then comes the interview itself, broadcast "live" on a video monitor that looms over the action.With Langella as Nixon, the play was a Greek tragedy. With Keach, it's more of a romantic tragedy. Keach cuts an imposing yet amiable and ferociously intelligent figure of Nixon, not half as smarmy or snipey as Langella's, or as press accounts detail, or as portrayed in plays by Donald Freed. It took Keach about 15 minutes to find his strike, vocally and physically, on press night, but once he did, he rolled through the play with the dexterity and force of a nimble tank, eliciting considerable pathos. Playwright Morgan also gives him such wit, that his protests about being an perpetual outsider belie the evidence we see on the stage. This is a guy who'd seem to do quite well at dinner parties, at least half as well as his authentic and almost ingratiatingly above-the-fray playboy host. Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave. downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through March 29. http://centertheatregroup.org (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature on Thursday at http://laweekly.com/theater
Frost/Nixon Photo by Carol Rosegg
GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's farce about a city dweller's move to a farm house. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (562) 494-1014.
NEW REVIEW GREASE Born of NBC's reality-TV casting competition Grease: You're the One That I Want, this latest take on Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's Broadway-hit malt-shop musical features perfunctory performances by Eric Schneider and Emily Padgett as the star-crossed summer lovers, Danny and Sandy. This may explain why headliner status went to American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, despite his mere cameo appearance. He's the Teen Angel ("teen"? wait, what?) who advises beauty school dropout Frenchy (Kate Morgan Chadwick) to go back to high school. Hicks' turn is actually the most effective part of the show, with him crooning to her swooning, as he descends from above amid wafting curls of smoke -- but that's not saying much. Director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall's staging generally involves the cast just walking around or, worse, sitting or standing in one place as they belt out their numbers. Can we get these kids some roller skates or something? The actors' voices are uniformly strong, though Schneider's is unremarkable, and Padgett often tackles the Olivia Newton-John songs like they're arias. Paul Huntley's wig stylings and Martin Pakledinaz's costume design provide delightfully retro coifs on the ladies and snazzy duds on the dudes, but Derek McLane's cartoon set looks like it was designed by a middle school stagecraft club. And what's with censoring the explicit lyrics? Greased Lightnin' is no longer the car that gets you pussy, it's a "dragon wagon." What the hell does that even mean? Make no mistake, I love Grease, with its timeless plot of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-sluts-it-up-to-get-boy-back, but this is not the one you want. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 22. (213) 365-3500. (Derek Thomas)
HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA Mike Daisey's state-of-the-stage monologue. (Roundtable discussion follows March 20 perf.). Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Through March 21, 8 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.
LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder's musical about a husband-and-wife lounge act, on- and offstage at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 3:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 208-5454.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's battle of the sexes. (Schedule varies, call for info.). A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 17. (818) 240-0910.
GO THE THREEPENNY OPERA Director Jules Aaron's luscious production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's dark-hearted musical is a snappy dramatic delight that, in the words of the play, "has pretty teeth, dear." The tale of sexy, villainous Mac the Knife (Jeff Griggs), his seduction of the virtuous Polly Peacham (Shannon Warne), and his near-destruction in an underworld inhabited by pimps, thieves, murderers, and whores is given a powerful and pleasingly cynical staging. Brecht purists might find some fault with the fact that the polished and assured production lacks a slight edge of rattiness. Yet, this reviewer isn't going to criticize the show for being too skillfully executed - particularly as Darryl Archibald's gorgeous musical direction contains musical renditions of the Weill classics that approach standards of opera. Griggs, a baritone of strikingly evocative ferocity, delivers his lines and musical numbers with a tightly controlled roar, suggesting some kind of a sexy beast who's just barely holding himself from running amok. Warne's Polly artfully shifts on a dime from sweet innocent to brutal fiend, in her rendition of "Pirate Jenny." And as the hardened prostitute who befriends and then betrays Mac, Zarah Mahler's poignant Jenny Diver delivers her musical numbers with a rough pathos and despair. Eileen T'Kaye's wondrously funny snaggle-toothed hag, Mrs. Peacham, and Paul Zegler's pompous and self pitying police chief, are also striking. The translation, by Village Voicetheater critic Michael Feingold, is witty and vivid - even if the alteration of some of the lines and lyrics that are well known from the famous theatrical recordings of the show, occasionally engenders some surprise. (PB) International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd, Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.: through March 22. (562) 436-4610.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
GO THE JAZZ AGE The title phrase, coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald about the desperate frivolity of the post WWI era, captures the spirit if not the style of Allan Knee's fascinating, melodramatic fantasy of life. The play shows the intersecting lives of Fitzgerald (Luke Macfarlane), his troubled southern belle wife Zelda (Heather Prete), and literary rival Ernest Hemingway (Jeremy Gabriel). Fitzgerald is at the apex of his career when he tries to woo the reluctant, soon-to-be poster boy for machismo into his world. Opposites in style, but with both being enthusiastic expats in Paris, the hard-drinking womanizers bond, spar and occasionally hint at urges toward homoeroticism through more than a decade of rocky friendship. With their live performance of exhilarating period (and some original) music, Ian Whitcomb and his Bungalow Boys punctuate much of the play. Director Michael Matthews and the fine cast follow Knee's heavy-handed writing with fierce dramatics that effectively play like the most overarching characterizations of 1940s plays by Tennessee Williams - with Prete's powerful Zelda resembling Blanche. Kurt Boetcher's set evocatively transforms The Blank's tiny space, pairing masculine wood frames with panels of effete Tiffany's blue. (TP) 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Bvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 661-9827. The Blank Theatre.
SIX YEARS Stagey but with redeeming moments, Sharr White's well-intended play examines the post-traumatic stress of a WWII vet. Launched on a note of high melodrama from which it rarely descends, it jump-starts in a dumpy motel room in 1949, where an ex-GI named Phil (G. Scott Brown) has cloistered himself away. Unlike other soldiers who returned home to their families after the war, Phil has wandered about the country. Now he's confronted by his young wife, Meredith (Wendy Kaplan Foxworth), who wants to bring him home and try to salvage their marriage. From that point, the play spans 24 years, tracking the couple's ups and downs against a socio-historical backdrop culminating in the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, neither the play nor the production match their respective good intentions. Framed against a bleak, black backdrop, White's inconsistent script is often derivative. Under Kevin Kaddi's direction, Brown gives his all, but it's clear he hasn't internalized his character's battle-engendered torment. Less challenged, Foxworth gives a believable performance as his long-suffering and ultimately adulterous spouse. The six-member supporting ensemble is uneven; Alex Gunn overcomes an initial awkwardness to present an effective portrayal of Meredith's disappointed lover, while Sarah Cook offers a well-crafted cameo as a gal who contemplates giving Phil a whirl, then cuts and runs when she realizes the baleful imbroglio that might ensue. (DK) Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 22. (323) 871-1150. Momentum Theatre Group
ACME THIS WEEK ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
GO BACKSEATS & BATHROOM STALLS: A NOT-SO ROMANTIC COMEDY OF BAD MANNERS Rob Mersola's extravagant farce extracts its laughs from its characters' miseries and sexual misadventures: self-loathing, murderous competitiveness, anonymous erotic encounters. Mersola is a clever writer, who exploits the tried-and-true farce structure to engineer a funny final scene in which all the characters are brought together to have their lies, deceptions and shenanigans unmasked. A skillful cast meticulously mines the laughs in this crowd-pleasing date show. (NW). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-7829.
BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Pennkin Wright. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (323) 850-7827.
GO BEGGARS IN THE HOUSE OF PLENTY John Patrick Shanley's semi-autobiographical one-act about growing up in a dysfunctional working class Irish-American Catholic family is smartly directed by Larry Moss. The play opens when Johnny (Chris Payne Gilbert) is five-years old and is only dimly aware that love is missing from his life. His sister, Sheila (Lena Georgas), is escaping the household through early marriage, so the real problems don't start until brother Joey (the excellent David Gail) returns home from the Navy. His death-obsessed mother (Francesca Casale) is disappointed by the gifts he brings, but nothing he can say or do will please his father (Jack Conley). Moss's bold directorial style is most in evidence in the darkly comedic scenes with exaggerated line deliveries such as when cousin Sister Mary Kate (Denise Crosby) leads the family in a mangled version of "Hail Mary." The action jumps ahead 15 years when Johnny's just been thrown out of college and he's doing battle with his elder brother. The final segment is a dream sequence that's been effectively lit by Leigh Allen to emphasize the hellish qualities of the family's life. Johnny knows that his escape from his family will come when he has "the words," for he doesn't want to just hate his parents--he wants to understand them. Conley is superb as the violent father who wields a meat cleaver with ease. (SR) Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 29. (800) 838-3006.
GO BOHEMIAN COWBOY The original title of Raymond King Shurtz's one-man show was The Gospel of Irony- which would have been a particularly ironic title, had it stuck, since there's not a trace of irony in Shurtz's unwaveringly sincere family memoir, now called Bohemian Cowboy. It's all to his efforts to understand the mystery of his father's disappearance three years ago. The elder Shurtz drove six miles into the Nevada desert in his pickup truck, got out and, evidently, started walking. And now the younger Shurtz is trying to fathom whether or not it was suicide, homicide and just some freak turn of events. The older man was not the best of fathers, his son explains through shards of poignant stories that are as compassionate as they are gracefully written, and spoken. And the father was feeling some humiliation from the physical after-effects of treatments for a form of cancer not specified in the play. The uncredited set contains raw wood slabs of some nondescript interior; when not showing family photographs, a video monitor overhead frames the action with an image of the boundless Mojave. Under Kurt Brungardt's tender direction, background sounds to Shurtz's fantastical mystery tour to the scene of his father's disappearance include howling wind, the rat-tat-tat of search-and-rescue helicopters. The father was a musician, and the son juxtaposes his saga with moving ballads from his memory, as well as his own original compositions. Near the beginning, Shurtz quotes William Styron saying that depression is the inability to grieve. Shurtz's performance is, indeed, a elegy, a theater-poem of Styron-esque insight and elegance. He describes his playwright mother as a poet, while his father was merely "poetical." He meets Jesus in the desert, a figure "with ebony eyes and crooked teeth," while Hamlet accompanies him for some of the drive across the expanse. Hamlet, he says, does not care for Shurtz's song honoring Ophelia. Shurtz performs all this with gentle, wistful intelligence that avoids pitfalls of moroseness and melodrama. Through this deeply personal story of fathers and sons, and marriages gone awry, Shurtz has stumbled onto a romantic allegory, not only for a man lost in the wilderness, but for a country, dangerously tipsy, swerving over the broken center-line of an open road, as though between nostalgia and despondency, beneath a canopy of stars. Elephant Lab Theatre, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m. (no perfs March 13-14); through March 21. (323) 960-7744. A Theatre 4S Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
BRIDEZILLA STRIKES BACK! In August of 2002, Cynthia Silver, a struggling actress, was informed by her wedding "event designer" that a British film company, September Films was creating a "documentary series" called "Manhattan Brides," that followed couples through the preparation of their nuptials. Her fiancé, Matt Silver (who still works as a production stage manager on Broadway), was less than impressed and, according to Cynthia's confession, said he didn't like the silky tone of the British producers, and didn't trust them. "It's a reality TV show," he told her. "No, hon," she replied, "It's a documentary series. It's like Nova, but about weddings." Similarly confusing "exposure" with "acting," she also believed that the experience might jump start her performing career. Silver performed her show in the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival; she's now visibly pregnant, and has regained the 15 pounds she says she lost after the gdocumentaryh was aired. Much of the Bridezilla pedestrian, as Silver regales us - on and around Giulio Perrone's wedding cake set piece - about her filmed hysterics while trying to find a wedding dress that would disguise her weight; and her spunky on-film ruminations about the cruel, exploitive ambitions of the wedding industry. Then comes the section that's irrefutably absorbing, when Silver finally realizes the betrayal that we've suspected all along. Months after filming has been completed comes the email from Britain that the gdocumentaryh has been sold to Fox, which is turning into a reality show. The core of her identity crisis is her obsession with what others think of her. As her husband aptly puts it, "Why do you care? They're idiots!" But she does care, and her endearing confession of the profound insight she's learned rings ever so slightly hollow through her tears. She is, after all, still doing this show, still confessing in front of strangers in a film and TV industry town. (SLM) Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-7774.
GO BRUISING FOR BESOS In Spanish besos means kisses but getting them in Yolanda Villamontes' (writer/performer Adelina Anthony) family should come with combat pay. With a philandering father who alternately abuses and romances her emotionally fragile mother, Yolanda develops a distorted view of love that clouds her relationships, most especially that with her mom. Now as an adult on a sojourn from L.A. to visit her sick mother in San Antonio, Yolanda is marooned with a busted radiator on a Texas highway and flashes back to memories of her hardscrabble childhood, her budding attraction to women, and the struggle for her and her mom to accept one another. Anthony's solo performance chronicles a tale of dysfunction with uproarious humor and heartfelt gravity, deftly balancing both and delivering a riveting work. Under Rose Marcario's sturdy direction, Anthony effortlessly embodies a host of characters, from Yolanda's' strutting father and precocious siblings to her sexually confused high school peer, from a fiery Puerto Rican lover to a mother aching from a love-hate relationship. Designer Robert Selander's set, centered on a Ford Mustang grill and car hood made of bleached bones, and John Pedrone's evocative lighting design, combine well with Anthony's journey of self-discovery. (MH) The Davidson/Valenti Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 860-7300.
DADDY'S DYIN', WHO'S GOT THE WILL Director Jeff Murray has here substituted the "white trash" clan in Del Shores' comedy about a dysfunctional family in 1986 Texas with an African-American cast. For most of the evening, it's funny watching this caustic mix of vipers playing head games and sniping at each other. Shores<0x2019> dialogue is blisteringly funny, but sometimes these qualities don't emerge forcefully enough under Murray's understated direction. (LE3). Theatre/Theater-Hollywood, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 12. (323) 954-9795.
GO DIVORCE! THE MUSICAL Erin Kamler's witty and entertaining new musical satire (for which she wrote the music, the lyrics and the book) takes apart almost every emotional phase of a marital breakup, including the horrors of dating and the hollows of rebound sex, and sets it to chirpy and wry songs that feature some sophisticated musical juxtapositions and harmonies. (Musical direction and arrangements by David O) Kamler skirts the apparent danger of triteness (setting a too familiar circumstance to music) by cutting beneath the veneer of gender warfare. This is a study of the decaying partnership of a resentful Brentwood radiologist (Rick Segall) and his aspiring actress wife (Lowe Taylor), goaded by their respective attorneys. The lawyers are the villains here - one (Gabrielle Wagner), a Beverly Hills shark, the other (Leslie Stevens), a swirl of confusion from her own recent divorce and now "temporarily" based in Studio City. These vultures collude to distort the grievances of their clients, who both actually care about their exes, and would be better off without "representation." They might even remain married, the musical implies. Director Rick Sparks gets clean, accomplished performances from his five-person ensemble (that also includes Gregory Franklin, as the Mediator - i.e. host of an absurdist game show.) Danny Cistone's cubist set with rolling platforms masks the live three-piece band, parked behind the action: This includes the ex-groom's impulsive decision, based in his lawyer's misinformation, to removal all furniture from his home, where he ex-bride continues to live -- only to find his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. In the song, "We Stuck It Out," there's a kind of Sondheimian ennui to the verities of life-long partnerships. The song is ostensibly an homage to his parents, in whose basement he winds up living. As the Brits would say, marriage is bloody hard work. (SLM) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 960-1056.
ENTER THE SUNDAY All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
FABULOUS DIVAS OF BROADWAY Alan Palmer stars as such lady legends as Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Liza Minnelli, Julie Andrews, and Judy Garland. Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru March 28. (323) 960-4442.
GO FILM Local playwright Patrick McGowan's new play has no right to be as good as it is. The central character is the late theater director Alan Schneider (Bill Robens) -- known for staging some of the best plays by Absurdist authors, including Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway, and introducing almost all of Samuel Beckett's plays to the American stage. Film has no right to be so good because Schneider, in this play, is an insufferable, flailing bully. The play is Schneider's nightmare -- an Absurdist nightmare, naturally -- a comedy and inexplicably scintillating entertainment about artistic failure. This biographical story, set in 1965 New York, features Schneider trying to make a film from a screenplay by Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward), who has come to New York to work with Schneider. Joining them to star in the slogging, portentous film, also named Film (now regarded by some historians as a "masterpiece") is Beckett's favorite comedian, Buster Keaton (Carl J. Johnson), long past his prime, spiritually at ease with his station in life, and willing to play along with the clueless intellectuals and a film crew whose patience gets sorely tested. Ward's Beckett is a delightfully rueful, awkward and solitary figure, aching in vain (of course) for the affections of the star-struck yet savvy prop mistress (the lovely Deana Barone). Johnson's Keaton (Mandi Moss handily plays the comedian in his younger days) has a pleasingly bemused perspective on Schneider's insane temper tantrums. Framing the story are slivers of Waiting for Godot in both French and English, and, in another nod to Beckett, a vaudeville in front of a curtain, featuring a kind of Mutt and Jeff routine, here played out by Schneider and the source of his envy, director Mike Nichols (who grabbed the job directing the movie of Virginia Woolf), portrayed here as a figure of rare competence by Trevor H. Olsen. Despite his production being slightly too long, director Trevor Biship knows exactly what he's doing, astutely staging the action with supplementary archived film clips on Sarah Palmrose's emblematic set of a stage within a stage within a stage, each with its own curtain, and together depicting the multiple, clashing realities inside Schneider's tormented brain. (SLM) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 21. (323) 856-8611.
A FLEA IN HER EAR Suspicious wife tests hubby with a secret-admirer note, in Georges Feydeau's 1907 sex farce. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 667-0955.
4 AT 40: MOTHERS' LETTERS TO THEIR DAUGHTERS Daniela Ryan's solo story of a farm family's generations. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (323) 851-2603.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
THE GRADUATE British playwright Terry Johnson's fatuous adaptation of Mike Nichols 1967 film and Charles Webb's novel might have garnered laughs had it been played as a satire. No such luck, I'm afraid. Featuring the Mrs. Robinson character in the buff (the producers raked it in when Katherine Turner played the role in London and New York), Johnson's illogical script rips off highlights from the film and juxtaposes them with additional plot points: a drunken tete-a-tete between Elaine (Michele Exarhos) and Mrs. Robinson (Kelly Lloyd), a visit by Benjamin (Ben Campbell) and his parents (Jerry Lloyd and Cindy Yantis) to a psychotherapist, a strip bar sequence with a topless dancer falling into Elaine's lap, and a redo of the wedding scene at the end, with Mr. Robinson (Jim Keily) going after Benjamin with a bat. None of these inanities would matter quite so much if Johnson hadn't also stripped the story of all wit, depth and meaningful social commentary. Directed with little insight by Jules Aaron, the performances range from cartoonish to earnest to an off-putting mixture of both. To be fair, it's difficult to deliver an ultimate rendering given the dreadful material. As the predatory siren, Lloyd might have fit nicely into a well-calibrated farce. Costume designer Shon LeBLanc mysteriously makes Elaine look as dowdy as possible; nor do his designs flatter Lloyd. Set designer Stephen Gifford's drab, functional wood-paneled backdrop underscores this essentially lifeless effort. (DK) El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 460-4443.
GRAND MOTEL The real star of Michael Sargent's new farce is the set - Chris Covics' stunningly realistic back yard of a Palm Springs men-only nudist motel, replete with lawn chairs and lawn, swimming pool containing little rubber duckies, the motel's stacco walls and a sliding door to the room facing the pool. Early in Act 1, aging "degenerate southern playwright" Cornelius Coffin (Dennis Christopher) staggers from that room into the 95 degree heat at 10 a.m., dressed in a white shroud, like Tennessee Williams or "like the men wear in Morocco." As though jolted by a surge of electricity, he flails backwards upon entering the heat, shielding his eyes from the glare and staggering back into his room to retrieve his sunglasses. It's one in a series of funny, small jokes, nicely staged by the author. Coffin is hiding from the East Coast premiere of his latest play, or at least hiding from the reviews that are due out any moment. There's a suicide pact he makes with a male model (Andy Hopper) who insists he has a girlfriend, while Coffin's so called friend, Maria St. Juiced (Shannon Holt), arrives by scaling an eight-foot wall. Holt offers a performances of nicely timed tics and wiggles that reveal her character's idiosyncratic insanity. Another wall-hopper is the local, prancing male escort (Nick Soper). The motel's co-owners (Craig Johnson and Erik Hanson) are struggling to keep the place afloat, though we hear that the competition across the street, another male nudist motel called The Deep End, is fully booked. Nice comedic cameos also by Bruce Adel and Nathaniel Stanton as an aging couple , respectively named Low Hangers and Papa Smurf, who come to P.S. to reinvigorate their otherwise flaccid love life. There is a plot about things not being what they seem, but this is essentially a comedy of manners. Sargent's structure is so languid that once the jokes about the atmosphere tumble away, the play is left wearing mere threads, not unlike its characters. (SLM) Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through March 28. (323) 466-7781.
GROUNDLINGS, IN THE STUDY, WITH THE CANDLESTICK All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Rash. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru April 25. (323) 934-9700.
THE HIGH Teen drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". COMEDYSPORTZ, 733 N. Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 856-4796.
THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA Federico Garcia Lorca story of sexually repressed daughters in a strict Spanish home. (Performances alternate in English and Spanish; call for schedule.). Teatro Carmen Zapata, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 225-4044.
GO HOWLIN' BLUES AND DIRTY DOGS The spirit of the blues pulsates resoundingly throughout this stirring musical based on the life of feisty, soulful singer Big Mama Thornton. The strengths in class-act vocalist Barbara Morrison's performance lie not in her effort to re-create the historical woman but in her expressionistic portrayal of this talented but troubled figure's essence, captured in Morrison's earthy, heartrending vocals. Carla DuPree Clark directs a top-notch supporting ensemble, and the music is simply topflight. (DK). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 6 p.m.; thru April 12. (310) 462-1439.
THE INCREASED DIFFICULTY OF CONCENTRATION. Absurdist playwright,
militant anti-Communist and human rights advocate Vaclav Havel is
unique as the only working playwright who was also a head of state: he
was president of both Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic. This
piece, translated by Stepan S. Simek, centers on social scientist Dr.
Edward Hummel (Scott Rognlien), who's writing an earnest treatise on
the nature of happiness and human needs. In private life, however, he's
an egocentric male chauvinist, liar and sexual philanderer. In addition
to his neglected wife (Kristina Hayes), he has a flamboyant mistress
(Sarah Wolter), and makes passes at his secretary (Whitney Vigil). He's
also participating in a crack-brained research project conducted by the
sex-starved academic Dr. Betty Balthazar (Amy Stiller), her odd-ball
assistants (Steve Hamill and Eric Normington), her eccentric supervisor
(Bobby Reed), and a temperamental computer named Putzig. Though all the
absurdist elements are present -- a fractured chronology, emblematic
characters and bizarre events -- it seems like a conventional sex
comedy grafted onto a philosophical farce. Director Alex Lippard has
assembled an able cast, and the results are often funny, but the play's
over-schematic structure makes for arid patches. (NW) The Lounge
Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.,
through March 28. Produced by The Next Arena. (323) 960-7788.
KEN ROHT'S 99￠ ONLY CALENDAR GIRL COMPETITION Now in its sixth year, director-choreographer Ken Roht's 99 Cents Only theater is beginning to look like a one trick pony. As in past years, the trick is to limit his costume (Ann Closs-Farley) and set (Jason Adams) designers to use only what they can scrounge from the titular discount chain for Roht's decidedly silly burlesques of Radio City-style, holiday musical spectaculars. It's a funny gag ― thanks mainly to the wit and ingenuity of Closs-Farley, whose show-stealing creations dress this year's ostensible lampoon of beauty pageants in the highest of camp. It almost makes one overlook Roht's failure to gird his polished production numbers with the narrative spine of a coherent book. Instead, he and co-composer John Ballinger are content to let their parody coast on their pastiche of Godspell-vintage, R&B showtunes and the bare structural framework of the pageant form itself. And while their clever lyrics often connect, the lack of a story arc or character through-lines means the evening never amounts to more than a concert of disconnected ― and increasingly monotonous ― musical sketches. If storytelling isn't Roht's forte, however, he once again proves his genius at talent recruitment. This year's 28-strong, pitch-perfect company generates enough singing and dancing power to light up an entire Broadway season. (BR) Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through March 29. (213) 389-3856.
GO LAWS OF SYMPATHY A knock-out cast under John Lawrence Rivera's economical direction gives a human heartbeat to Oliver Mayer's "message play" -- the heart being the theme of human cruelty that lies at at the center of Mayer's play about the freeing of Bantu slaves from Somali refugee camps. Though Mayer's dialogue suffers from didacticism. Anita Dashiell and Diarra Kilpatrick turn in fully realized performances as two war-ravaged women in performances that extend beyond the novelty of flushing a never before seen toilet (the gag gets old after a while). The women arrive with rich pasts, as well as a host if dreams, hopes and aspirations -- much to the chagrin of the usually unflappable refugee co-coordinator Mohammed (Ahmad Enani). His angry assistant Betty (Celelete Den) provides some much needed color and humor throughout the play. (The other major humorous bit comes when the Teletubbies, from one of the refugees' favorite TV show, arrive unannounced in "person."). Mayer does deserve credit for creating the morally ambiguous Gerald (Will Dixon), whose plans for the refugees sound vague at best. Act I is entirely taut, but Act 2 trots out a number of clichés and doesn't know quite when to end. John H. Binkly's functional turntable set allows Rivera's fast-paced direction to move quickly from scene to scene. (SR) Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 29. A Playwrights Arena production. (213) 627-4473.
GO LIE WITH ME Mutineer Theatre Company makes an impressive debut with Keith Bridges' pitch black new play. The verb in the title is deliberate double ententre in a drama about a family that keeps deflecting the consequences of their hideous behavior in matters of both sexuality and honesty. The device of a matriarch (Emily Morrison) slowly dying in an upstage cot is the only reason that her daughters would come anywhere near the home where they grew up, and where their father, Stan (Christian Lebano), had a lingering sexual relationship with one of them, Carla (Taylor Coffman). The now adult young women are like far-flung satellites whom Stan struggles to bring home in order to say whatever needs to be said to their fading mother. It takes an interloper - Carla's boyfriend, Ian (Jon Cohn) to provide a perspective on the "gentle" abuse (Carla was not raped or forced by her dad who engage in sex with him) that have transpired in this house. Both daughters now seethe with fury, and not only at their father. Young Susan (Amber Hamilton) cuts herself and tries to hit on Ian, just to spite Carla. Susan's envy of the attention Carla received from her father is one place where Bridges' drama slips off the rails. And the redundancy of Stan's earnest, plaintive appeals to both daughters ("Why do you hate me so much? "What did I do?") would be more credible from an emotional dope, but those appeals become theadbare from such an otherwise savvy character. The play's enormous strength lies in its smart, well-observed dialogue, how its characters deflect painful truths in moody, merciless games of emotional torture, how brash cynicism becomes a line of defense. "I'll be here if you need me," Ian tells Carla in one of their many spats. "Need?" she spits back, contemptuously. The performances are truer than true, particularly the women's ferocity, like wounded animals, and how Lebano turns Stan's endless rationalizations into a kind of psychosis. None of this would ring true without Joe Banno's textured, cinematic staging that helps eek out the mystery, drop by drop, with the help of Davis Campbell's detailed set and the theological bridges of sound designer James Richter's original music. (SLM) Art/Works Theatre 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 5. (323) 960-7787.
LITTLE WOMEN (THE MUSICAL) Based on Louisa May Alcott's story of four sisters, music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, book by Allan Knee. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 939-9220.
GO LOVELACE: A ROCK OPERA Linda Lovelace, star of Deep Throat,
wrote four autobiographies that muddled, not clarified, her unusual
life. In the first two, she was a nympho; the second two, a victim. In
all, however, her husband Chuck Traynor (here, played biliously by
Jimmy Swan) is clearly a sleaze who lured her into prostitution. Anna
Waronker and Charlotte Caffey's dark and haunting musical is anti-pimp,
not anti-porn, even though the two are inextricably linked. Ken
Sawyer's well-staged production is fated to descend into hellish reds
and writhing bodies, yet it's shot through with beauty and sometimes
even hope. As Linda, Katrina Lenk is sensational -- she has a dozen
nuanced smiles that range from innocent to shattered to grateful, in
order to express whatever passes as kindness when, say, a male co-star
(Josh Greene) promises to make their scene fun. Waronker and Caffey
were members of two major girl bands, That Dog and The Go-Go's
respectively, and their music -- with its keyboards, cellos, and
thrumming guitars -- has a pop catchiness that works even with the
bleakest lyrics, some originally written by Jeffery Leonard Bowman.
Though the facts of Linda's past went with her and Chuck to the grave
(both died within months of each other in 2002), there's strong
evidence that her life was even worse than the musical's ending
suggests, but it's cathartic to watch her stand strong and sing of her
hard-fought independence before flashing lights that, in ironic
defiance of the play's title, beam out her real name: Linda Boreman.
(AN) Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-4442, www.plays411.com.
NEW REVIEW MAKIN' HAY Playwright Matthew Goldsby's musical may be set in the imaginary Texas backwoods, but the piece's pedigree is pure Parisian, as the work is broadly based on Moliere's comedy, Georges Dandin. I say "broadly based" because Moliere probably wasn't intending to have his characters wearing big ole cowboy hats or the occasional Nancy Reagan hairdo. George (David Atkinson) is a grouchy rancher who hits it big "black gold, Texas tea." What should be a gusher of happiness instead dries up his marriage to the lovely Anna Lee (Rory Patterson). When a sleazy, slick shiny suit-wearing doctor (Steven Hogle) woos Anna Lee with love notes and a ten-gallon that looks like it could hold 20 gallons, the wife starts to weaken, unintentionally abetted on her adulterous way by her own greedy parents, and also by her earthy Mexican maid Lucia (Gina D'Acciaro). Moliere's sardonic spoof of class and middle-class hypocrisy is only tepidly well served by Goldsby's overly sentimental tone - and by a score that's an unfortunate combination of simplistic melodies and lame, moon-in-june lyrics. Director Linda Kerns stages a production that never met a Texas cliché it didn't want to lasso, while also opting not to explore characters beyond dull ethnic and recycled Texas stereotypes. Brent Crayon's workmanlike musical direction hits a variety of stock country music marks, but the weakness is ultimately Goldsby's treacly score and book. Patterson's folksy Anna Lee has a wonderful country crooner voice, and D'Acciaro's droll Mariachi-influenced songs are a pleasure. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through April 5. (323) 462-8460. (Paul Birchall)
Makin' Hay Photo by Lindsay Schnebly
THE MAKING OF A MULATTO Born in France to a black father from North Carolina and a white French mother, writer-performer Juliette Fairley should have a compelling tale to tell. Unfortunately, under Bill Becker's shaky direction, she delivers a slapdash one-woman outing that merely scratches the surface of the equally challenging struggles in her parents' romance and marriage, and Fairley's own growing up a mixed-race child in a prejudiced America. (Mart<0x00ED>n Hern<0x00E1>ndez). Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., March 22, 3 p.m.; Sun., April 5, 3 p.m.; Sun., April 19, 3 p.m.; Sun., May 3, 3 p.m.. (323) 957-4652.
GO MAMMALS Persuasive performances under John Pleshette's skillful direction lend humor and heft to this dark comedy by first time British playwright, Amelia Bluemore. Sporting shades of Alan Ayckbourn, the play concerns a married couple, Jane (Bess Meyer) and Kev (Adrian Neil), who discover disturbing facts about each other's taken-for-granted fidelity. Dealing with these hurtful revelations becomes complicated by the demanding presence of their two willful daughters, 4-year-old Jess and 6-year-old Betty (played by adult performers Phoebe James and Abigail Revasch), and by their weekend guests, Kev's old friend Phil (David Corbett) and his narcissistic girlfriend Lorna (Stephanie Ittleson). The play takes a while to get going by virtue of an unnecessarily lengthy scene showing the frazzled Jane struggling to cope with the bratty kids. While no reflection on the performers, casting adults as children -- meant to convey the breadth of a child's presence in people's lives -- is a device whose humor soon wears thin. But once the arena shifts to grown-up turf, the piece gets more involving, in large part due to the performers' adept and nuanced work. Of particular note are Meyer, unfailingly on the mark as an intelligent but harried homemaker, Neil as a man twitching timorously on the verge of an affair, and Corbett as his blither, more roll-with-the-punches pal. (DK) Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. through April 5. (800) 595-4849. Note: Roles alternate.
NEW REVIEW GO THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP: A
PENNY DREADFUL Only the late Charles Ludlum, founding genius of NYC's
Ridiculous Theatre Company, could have combined so many hilariously
affectionate Gothic send-ups in a single play: There are shades of
Ibsen's Rosmersholm, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, plus The Mummy, Falconcrest, The Werewolf,
and many vampire tales. To make the madness madder, Ludlum designed the
play as a quick-change tour-de-force, with two actors (Jim Hanna and
Steven Shields) playing seven roles. The time is the 1880s, and the
place is Mandacrest, the home of famous Egyptologist Lord Edgar
(Shields), who has recently arrived with his new second wife, Lady Enid
(Hanna). The portrait of the first Lady Hillcrest, Irma Vep (an anagram
for Vampire), stares balefully down above the fire-place as the
treacherous housekeeper Jane (Shields) and the one-legged care-taker
Nicodemus (Hanna) discuss the family's dark history. Wolves howl,
thunder crashes, sliding panels slide, a portrait bleeds, costumes are
changed at lightning speed, and an ancient Egyptian princess (Hanna) is
mysteriously resurrected. Director Andrew Crusse has assembled a brisk,
funny rendition on the clever set by Shelley Delayne, and the two
actors make broad comic hay of their several roles. The Hayworth, 2511
Wilshire Boulevard, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., thru April
4. (323) 969-1707. An Ark Theatre Company production. (Neal Weaver)
The Mystery of Irma Vep Photo by Raquel Krelle
THE PAINTING Writer-director Bill Becker's new play concerns the obsession of a wealthy, recently widowed painter with a male model whom she hires as part of a commission by what one would surmise to be a gay client, since the provocative pose requested is to be nude. Though Becker has all his actors keep at least their underwear on at all times, there's nonetheless a leering quality to the writing, which only demonstrates that nakedness doesn't always concern clothes. (SLM). Gardner Stages, 1501 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 960-7735.
NEW REVIEW THE PARABOX Set against Jim Priest's minimalist backdrop of colored frames, this play, created and directed by Rachel Kolar and Lauren Brown, features the pair, described as "1" (Brown) and "2" (Kolar) clad in silver unitards with facial make-up that resembles circuitry. Initially, we see them via a silent video montage of them frolicking at the beach. In the next scene, they discover a mysterious clear box at their door, the Parabox, and "1" tries it on her head, experiencing a maelstrom of sensation. Subsequently, the conflict between escalates as the Parabox becomes a chimerical prop in the ensuing scenes that trace their lives through marriage, sex, war and divorce. While non-naturalistic experimental theatre that doesn't provide easy answers can be intriguing, this piece fails to challenging the audience in terms of medium or substance. The idea of featuring local music, in this case from bands Future Pigeon and Lucky Dragons, is also commendable, but there is too little of it in the piece to be meaningful. On balance, the look and feel is reminiscent of the parodic Robots from Flight of the Conchords, but without the catchy music or humor. Son of Semele Ensemble, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. email@example.com. A Post Fact Productions Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO PARADISE HOTEL The new Menander Theatre Company is off to a rousing start with a harum-scarum production of this classic French farce by Georges Feydeau, nimbly translated by Nicholas Rudall. The hotel in question is a disreputable house of assignation (it advertises hourly and group rates) where, by a series of unlikely coincidences, most of the characters wind up. M. Pinglet (Philip D'Amore) is attempting to elude his domineering wife (Catie LeOrisa) in order to seduce Marcelle (Jeanne Simpson), the wife of his neighbor Paillardin (Michael Bonabel), who's also visiting the hotel for reasons of his own. The sassy French maid Victoire (Eris Migliorini) is out to seduce the clueless young philosophy student Maxime (Chris Arnst). Mathieu (Jim Kohn), a man who stutters only when it rains, thinks the Paradise is a respectable hostelry, and puts up there with his three daughters (Karen Grim, Jen Hoyt and Liza Morgan). The hotel manager (Sid Veda) specializes in spying on the guests, while the over-zealous porter (Jason Thomas) is hell-bent on seducing Marcelle. Sex is in short supply as confusions and contretemps escalate and multiply till loony Inspector Boucard (Eddie Pepitone) carts everybody off to jail. It's a genuinely funny rendition, skillfully played, and nicely directed by Gina Torrecilla. (NW) Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through March 29. http://gomenander.com Menander Theatre Company
GO POINT BREAK LIVE! Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
GO POOR, POOR LEAR In her one woman Shakespeare show-within-a-show, Nina Sallinen nearly triples her age to play a 90-year-old Finnish diva, returning to the stage after decades away to perform King Lear wit just a hat, a doll, and a flower to represent the king's three ill-fated daughters. The aged actress is seemingly in constant motion, thrilled to back in the spotlight, but her overactive mouth, her limbs and, on occasion, her mind are betraying her. When her stubborn legs and distracted brain cause her to freeze up on stage, it's as electric as her shock of white hair that shakes loose in wild directions. A solo performance of King Lear is a vanity piece, however cleverly slummed up with nice touches like the hairdryer Sallinen clicks on so that she can deliver the king's "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!" speech into its tinny gale. But what's really at stake for the ancient drama queen is that her estranged daughters -- and the evening's guests of honor -- have instead gone to the movies, spinning her into a manic depression where she acknowledges the parallels between her characters and herself. A shattered second act soliloquy over-explains what we've enjoyed intuiting, but when Sallinen's actress drops her facade and asks the audience to see her for who she really is, the moment is so kinetic that we forget we're still looking at a fictional creation. (AN) The Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 26. (818) 430-4835.
PUPPET UP! UNCENSORED Naughty improv by Henson Alternative puppeteers. Avalon, 1735 Vine St., L.A.; Sat., March 21, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 18, 8 p.m.. (213) 480-3232.
ROMEO AND JULIET Young lovers get all emo. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (800) 838-3006.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Tribute to the early years of SNL. Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., No. 6, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru April 1. (323) 465-0800.
SIN, A CARDINAL DEPOSED Prosecutor demands answers from a cardinal about sexual abuse in his archdiocese, by Michael Murphy, based on actual court transcripts. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 2. (323) 960-4442.
SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy "with a distinctly African-American sensibility.". Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru April 14. (323) 960-7745.
STITCHING Combine equal parts Harold Pinter, EC Comics and Al Goldstein, then shake ― but not stir ― till thoroughly black and blue, and you might approximate the acrid, psycho-sexually explicit minimalism on tap in Anthony Neilson's bleak, 2002 relationship melodrama. Two narrative timelines trace the final, grueling chapters in the troubled marriage of 30-somethings Abby (Meital Dohan) and Stu (John Ventimiglia) when infidelity and an unplanned pregnancy transform a merely bad marriage into a nightmarishly sadomasochistic dance of death. Alternating between past and present, the narrative effectively juxtaposes the bickering couple's fateful choice to remain together and have the baby with that decision's grimly ironic aftermath ― an unseen tragedy and the increasingly self-destructive and brutal role-playing sex games through which the couple attempts to expiate their guilt. Neilson, a graduate of Britain's much-trumpeted "in-yer-face" playwriting school, injects the proceedings with enough graphic sex and violence (including a particularly grisly twist ending) to justify his alma mater's transgressive reputation, but the intended shock effects quickly wear thin. Despite Dohan's searing and soulful turn, Abby is too much of a cipher for Stu's sexually degrading antics to signify as much more than phallocentric pornography. Director Timothy Haskell doesn't mitigate matters by smothering the delicate rhythms of Neilson's abstract text under an overblown, kitchen-sink mise en scene and interminably long scene changes. (BR) Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 962-7782.
13 BY SHANLEY FESTIVAL Seven full-length plays and six one-acts by John Patrick Shanley. (Weekly schedule alternates; call for info.). Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru May 24. (323) 960-7827.
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.
NEW REVIEW GO WINGS OF NIGHT SKY, WINGS OF MORNING LIGHT Native American poet and musician Joy Harjo is a woman who communes with spirits, and in this music-embellished piece, she opines about struggle, survival and transcendence in a powerful and eloquent voice. The narrative begins with an allegory about power, but the writer soon switches gears, vaulting back to her impoverished childhood in racist Oklahoma, where her mother, who sometimes sang in local bars, struggled to make her marriage work with her philandering, alcoholic father. After he deserted the family, Harjo's mom hooked up with a charmer who turned out to be a far worse villain. Eventually Harjo escaped to the larger world, but the price of freedom was alienation from her beloved parent. At the core of the piece is the writer's search for reconciliation and the healing of her fragmented spirit - a healing which, we understand from the beginning, is not merely for one woman but for all. One of the show's great virtues is Larry Mitchell's expressive guitar accompaniment, sometimes in tandem with Harjo's own lyrical tenor sax. The production has weaknesses, however, among them the performer's delivery, which is sometimes distant and strangely without affect, under Randy Reinholz' direction. Also, Harjo at times moves awkwardly. Scenic designer Susan Baker Scharpf's ethereal backdrop -- with its outline of a horse and human head seemingly whipped by the wind -- is wonderfully appropriate to the spirit of the work but nonetheless too large for the space, and constraining. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 667-2000. (Deborah Klugman)
Wings of Night Sky Photo by Sylvia Mautner
YENTA: STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH Annie Korzen critiques life. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 22. (323) 460-4443.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
GO THE BIRD AND MR. BANKS Alternately ghoulish and sweet, playwright Kevin Huff's darkly ironic tale is a pleasingly twisted mix of romance and Grand Guignol horror. After she's dumped by her louse-lover boss (Chet Grissom), corporate secretary Annie (Jenny Kern) tries to kill herself. She receives emotional support from a co-worker - the soft spoken, eerily staring accountant, Mr. Banks (Sam Anderson), whom the other folks in the office have long considered slightly creepy. After she moves into Mr. Banks' sprawling, dusty house, Annie discovers that the co-workers don't know the half of it. Still attached by a cast iron Oedipal apron string to parents long since dead, Banks has furnished the home in a dusty style that can charitably be called "Norman Bates Modern." When Annie's boss stops by and attempts to rape her, Banks pulls out a cudgel and events take a gruesome turn. Although the plot slightly bogs down during a needlessly long Act Two road trip, Huff's writing is otherwise smartly edgy, full of vituperative charm. Director Mark St. Amant's comedically tight production punches the weird, Addams Familytone with brio, nicely balancing horror with genuine sympathy for the characters. From his deep, soft, insanity-steeped voice to his shambolic gait and his half baked "drunk crazy uncle" stage persona, Anderson's turn as the crazed killer-accountant is utterly compelling. (PB) Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 2. (866) 811-4111. Road Theater Production.
GO A DON'T HUG ME COUNTY FAIR. This crowd-pleasing cornball musical, by Phil and Paul Olsen, suggests a home-town talent show combined with a sort of Minnesota Folk Play, full of bad jokes, and set in a bar called The Bunyan, on the first day of the Bunyan County Fair. Proprietor Gunner Johnson (Tom Gibis, who also plays Gunner's man-hungry sister Trigger) is so uncomfortable talking about feelings that he can't pronounce the word "love." His frustrated wife, Clara (Judy Heneghan)m seeks attention by becoming a contestant in the Miss Walleye Contest, whose winner will have her face carved in butter. Also in the running are Trigger and Bernice (Katherine Brunk), a scatty-but-shapely gal who longs to star on Broadway. And there are other competitions: karaoke-machine salesman Aarvid Gisselsen (Brad McDonald) and camping supplies tycoon Kanute Gunderson (Tom Limmel) vie for the hand of Bernice, while Kanute and Gunner compete in the fishing contest. The songs, by the Olsens, are rinky-tink and derivative, borrowing melodies from everywhere, but somehow they work. The giddy tone is set by Doug Engalla's direction, Stan Mazin's choreography, and an astonishingly detailed set by Chris Winfield, featuring a karaoke machine with a mind of its own. (NW) Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, N. Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru May 2. (818) 700-4878 www.lcgrt.com.
GO DRACULA Director Ken Sawyer, who recently helmed the delightful Lovelace: A Rock Opera at the Hayworth, has scored again with this stylish adaptation of Bram Stoker's vampire tale. Co-writers Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston's liberties they take on the story in now way diminish the quality of the production. Robert Arbogast is splendid as the creepy count, first seen rising from his grave to put the bite on the lovely Mina (Mara Marini), upon his arrival in England. When Lucy Seward (Darcy Jo Martin), contacts a mysterious illness, her mother, Lily (Karesa McElheny), who runs an asylum, enlists the expertise of Abraham Van Helsing (Joe Hart) to find a cure. Thrown into the mix are Lucy's betrothed Jonathan Harker (J.R. Mangels) and the mad, bug-eating Renfield (Alex Robert Holmes). This one's all about atmosphere. Desma Murphy's alluring set design is cleverly accented by an enormous backdrop of an incubus sitting on a sleeping woman, inspired by Henry Fuseli's painting "The Nightmare." Luke Moyer's lighting schema is perfectly conceived. Sawyer uses an arsenal of haunted house special effects here, including lots of rolling fog and wolf howls, but they never come across as cheesy or overdone; and there are a few scary moments during this 90-minute show, amidst the well-placed humor. (LE3) NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd.; N. Hlwyd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 26. (818) 508-7101.
ELOVE, A MUSICAL.COM/EDY Wayland Pickard's musical explores an online romance between an older man and woman who are newly single. After a Web site called "eLove" matches Frank (Lloyd Pedersen) and Carol (Bobbi Stamm), love seems to blossom as they begin chatting online. The opening number "I'm Single" has a catchy tune with some clever lyrics; unfortunately the highlight of the show comes five minutes in. The rest devolves into repetitive and unimaginative quips punctuated by musical numbers that plunge from the pedestrian to something akin to theme songs from an '80s sitcom. (MK). Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Toluca Lake; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 841-5422.
IT'S THE HOUSEWIVES! Domestic divas rock out, music and lyrics by Laurence Juber and Hope Juber, book by Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (323) 960-5563,.
LA RONDE Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (818) 500-7200.
THE LETTERS John W. Lowell's drama set in the Soviet Union's Ministry of Information. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 19. (866) 811-4111.
A LOVELY PLACE FOR A PICNIC Ladislav Smocek's antiwar play, reset in the jungles of Vietnam by Pavel Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru March 24. (866) 811-4111.
NEW REVIEW MACBETH Forget radically deconstructed concept productions or contemporary political reinterpretations, director Sean Branney delivers no such surprises in his traditional and somewhat generic staging of Shakespeare's Scottish noir. With the text more-or-less intact ― even the oft-cut first witches' scene remains ― Branney's most brazen liberty is to goose the testosterone with the kind of onstage swashbuckling (choreographed by Brian Danner) that Shakespeare had intended be played offstage. Otherwise, this bard is strictly by the book. The good news is Andrew Leman's muscular, articulate turn as brave Macbeth. Leman's performance is nobility personified; which is to say his regal demeanor is only occasionally ruffled by the underlying corruption of a "vaulting ambition" that will turn Macbeth, after Richard III, into Shakespeare's most notorious regicidal maniac. As the play's invidious femme fatale, McKerrin Kelly compliments Leman with a Lady Macbeth who makes even icy ruthlessness seem sexy. Other standouts include Daniel Kaemon's dashing Malcolm, and Mike Dalager and Danny Barclay, whose pair of scurvy-chic Murderers looks like they stepped out of a Guns N' Roses video. For the rest of the cast, costume designer Christy M. Hauptman eschews highland tartan for robes of a more indeterminate, medieval kind. That nonspecificity is continued in the raised stone altar and henge-like monoliths of Arthur MacBride's set, whose suggestion of Neolithic pagan ritual may be a clever design for Macbeth . . . not, however, for this one, which never otherwise hints at such themes. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26; (818) 846-5323. (Bill Raden)
MADAME BUTTERFLY: THE ORIGINAL PLAY The 1999 Secret Rose cast reunites for the play that inspired Puccini's opera. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (866) 811-4111.
MISCONCEPTIONS Seven short plays by Art Shulman. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (818) 700-4878.
PICNIC William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winner about a hunky drifter in a small Kansas town. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru April 11. (626) 355-4318.
REFUGEES It's culture clash for an ESL teacher in Iran, Armenia and the former Soviet bloc, written and performed by Stephanie Satie. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 5. (323) 960-4451.
THE SIN OF HEROES Two short comedies:
GO A SKULL IN CONNEMARA Playwright Martin McDonagh -- a four time Tony nominee is known for his rhythmic, ungrammatical dialogue and a worldview that's comic, unsparing and just. He sets his plays in Irish villages so small and overgrown with past grievances that neighbors remember 27-year-old slights that didn't even involve them. Here, a part time gravedigger named Mick (Morlan Higgins) and his sop-headed assistant, Mairtin (Jeff Kerr McGivney), are assigned to disinter the bones of Mick's wife, dead of a car crash officially, but the bored locals, like old widow Maryjohnny (Jenny O'Hara) and Thomas the cop (John K. Linton), have long whispered how she was murdered by her husband. Under Stuart Rogers' measured direction, Higgins feels capable of dismissive violence -- say, flinging hooch in Mairtin's eyes -- but we're reluctant to see the killer that could be hibernating within his bearish frame. Instead of plumbing the comedy's bleak cruelty, the production plays like a cynical -- and highly watchable -- Sherlock Holmes story; the focus is on the villagers' thick webs of past and present tension, which spins itself into an obsession with fairness where characters glower," Now I have to turn me vague insinuations into something more of an insult, so then we'll all be quits." Jeff McLaughlin's fantastic pull down set converts from a living room to a cemetery, with grave pits as deep as Higgin's thighs are thick. (AN) Theatre Tribe, 5267 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 29. (800) 838-3006.
TARTUFFE As Madame Pernelle (Judith Scarpone) is giving her imperious farewell lecture to the family, parading in a peach pantsuit with flowing scarves (costumes by Leah Piehl), about a dozen of her suitcases drop from the rafters. They hit with violent thuds, eliciting a blithe response from the family. Such is the lunacy in this present-day San Fernando Valley suburb (set by Ken McKenzie), modernized by director Josh Chambers from Moliere's 17th century Parisian estate setting. Meanwhile, Pernelle's son and master of the house, Orgon (Tim Cummings), stands on a platform high in the sky, dressed like a CIA agent and being caressed by an identically dressed twin, white-gloved figure in a grey ski mask. The double is the interloper-impostor Tartuffe (Antonio Anagaran). Orgon speaks all of Tartuffe's lines through a microphone, so that the pair are entwined psychologically as well as physically. Their movements are a kind of choreographed duet, and Chambers' direction contains many operatic elements. Though the physicalization simply renders austere what's more amusing (and self-evident) in Moliere's baroque farce - that Tartuffe is a demon who resides inside Orgon's soul - it's nonetheless one of many absorbing theatrical conceits. Another is the complicating reality that Pernelle's family is here lost in space. Granddaughter Mariane (Megan Heyn) lounges forlornly on one of the lawn chairs, inhaling fumes from aerosol cans that lie scattered at her feet. She's also in the habit of cutting herself - perhaps in response to the news that her insane father is pushing her to marry his beloved Tartuffe (i.e. himself?) -- yet Mariane's self-mutilation reveals layers of depressions that would go back years. Curiously, this gives some validity to Pernelle's screed against the family's spiritual malaise. Even Cleante (Matt Foyer) - Orgon's brother-in-law and the play's voice of reason - gives his nicely rendered if slightly tedious advice while lounging and swilling martinis. So we have an unhinged household threatened by the menacing hypocrisy of a pious zealot, whose appearances are accompanied by the dull rumble of Nathan Ruyle's sound design. Moliere's comedic indignation has been boiled down to a slightly glib nihilism. Donald Frame's faithful and full-bodied verse translation is completely at odds with Chambers' staging. The rhyming comes filled with whimsy, yet Chambers is tone-deaf to the humor inherent in the text. Moliere's is a humor of behavior; Chambers' is the humor of despondency. One almost wishes that Chambers would be bolder - staging a meditation on the play rather than the play itself, an opera based on the text rather than the full text itself. What we have instead is bloated austerity - a meringue pie filled with air, yet layered with steak and beans and banana cream. (SLM) Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (626) 683-6883.
BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story, yet his cast isn't up to it and hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each other. (AN). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 22. (310) 397-3244.
CINDERELLA: THE MUSICAL Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's family-friendly fairy tale. (Resv. required.). Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 27. (310) 394-9779.
DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Solo show by Aaron Braxton on education issues. (In the Research Space.). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28. (310) 358-9936.
ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT Jeff Daniels' comedy about deer hunters in upstate Michigan. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 4. (310) 512-6030.
LIONS Vince Melocchi's new play features nine men and a woman decaying slowing in a private watering hole during an major economic slump -- this major economic slump. Set during the 2007/2008 football season, Melocchi's story centers on John Waite (Matt McKenzie), an unemployed metalworker whose desire to see the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl supplants all other priorities in his life. As his immutable pride keeps him from opportunity, he grows sour and angry, a textured and nuanced transformation that McKenzie performs poetically, even at explosive heights of cursing and fighting. The rest of the denizens seem to spiral around him, perhaps sinking into his black hole of self worth. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos allows us to spend time with each of the hopeless, revealing the play's pith and brutality with a sensitive hand. But this tends to expose the play's relatively minor weaknesses: the conveniently contrived exits and entrances, the shapelessness of some of the relationships -- especially considering the large cast, clumsy dialogue that sometimes spills awkwardly into scenes. The strong ensemble, though, piles through these uneven aspects to deliver an all around touching portrait of middle America, a reminder that "real Americans" need not be so reductively characterized as simply Joe the Plumber. (LR) Pacific Resident Theater, 705 ½ Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 822-8392.
MADE ME NUCLEAR On March 1, 2006, singer-songwriter Charlie Lustman was informed by his doctor that he had a rare OsteoSarcoma (bone cancer) of the upper jaw. What followed was a grueling and painful siege of therapies, involving radiation injected into his body, surgery removing three quarters of his jawbone, surgical reconstruction, and extensive chemotherapy. When, after two years of treatment, he was declared cancer free, he created this touching 12-song cycle about his experiences. He sings about the bone-numbing shock and terror of being told he had cancer, his fear of death and sense of helplessness, the solace provided him by his loyal wife, his children and his doctors, memory problems caused by his chemo (mercifully temporary), and so on. But the tone is more celebratory than grim: he's determinedly life-affirming, full of hope and gratitude, and his songs are pitched in an intimate, jazzy, bluesy style. He's an engaging and personable performer (thanks in part to his skillful doctors), who brings rueful humor and mischief to a tale that might have been unrelievedly grim. If anything, tries a bit too hard to keep things light. We need a bit of scarifying detail if we're to appreciate his remarkable resilience and optimism. (NW) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through May 30. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
PICASSO AT THE LAPIN AGILE Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso trade shots at a Paris bar, in Steve Martin's play. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (562) 494-1014.
THE SECRET GARDEN Musical take on Frances Hidgon Burnett's children's novel, music by Lucy Simon, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 11. (310) 828-7519.
TAKING STEPS Alan Ayckbourn's 1979 sex comedy boasts a variety of riotously farcical situations, droll dialogue, and hilarious, yet believable characters. However, like many of Ayckbourn's other plays, at the piece's core, the underlying themes of heartbreak, midlife disappointment and greed suggest a much darker work teetering on a razor's edge of despair. Boorish, but wealthy bucket- manufacturing tycoon Roland (Marty Ryan, nicely smug) plots to purchase a run down Victorian mansion to please his trophy bride, Elizabeth (the splendidly kitten-like Melanie Lora). But when Roland arrives home to find that Elizabeth has packed her bags and fled, he drinks himself into oblivion, forcing his nebbish lawyer, Tristam (Jonathan Runyan), to spend the night in the spooky house. Complications ensue when Elizabeth returns home, and, in the dark, mistakes a snoozing Tristam for her horny husband. The visual gimmick behind Ayckbourn's comedy is that, although the play is set on three floors of a mansion, all the action takes place on the same stage level, with the actors moving amongst each other, without connecting with each other. It's a gag that tires fairly quickly, and co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi quite rightly underplay the wearisome gimmick in favor of emphasizing the play's more adroit character-driven comedy. A few cavils: The British dialects are haphazard, which inevitably causes some of the performers to bypass some layers of irony. Still, the ensemble work is mostly deft, with Hoff's bloated pig of a husband, Lora's selfish and flighty wife, and Runyan's innocent waif lawyer being wonderfully vivid, three dimensional, and unexpectedly dark characterizations. (PB) Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 5. (310) 477-2055.
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW Shakespeare's curiously misogynist comedy predates Neil Strauss' The Game by 400 years, during which audiences have yet to decide whether he's confirming or slyly eviscerating gender roles. (In this only recently post-Guantanamo climate, breaking Kate with starvation and sleeplessness and temporal disorientation seems less comic.) This staging seems more concerned with mounting a handsome production than a cohesive one. Jack Stehlin's direction takes each scene individually, some playing up the humor into Three Stooges-style slapstick while others burn sexual heat underneath red lighting. The set's minimal props and checkerboard floor underscore the sense of rootlessness - with characters standing by without much to do in a scene, the large ensemble looks like game pieces waiting to move. The cast turns out fine performances, each with their own tone; those that choose naturalism fare best, particularly Geoffrey Owen's intelligent Tranio and Stehlin's shrew-taming Petruchio, who has the easy confidence of Clark Gable. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 26. (310) 477-2055. A Circus Theatricals. production.
GO THE TRIAL OF THE CATONSVILLE NINE In May 1968, Father Daniel Berrigan (Andrew E. Wheeler ) and eight other peace activists seized 378 draft documents and publicly burned them with napalm to protest the Vietnam War and other American government atrocities. Drawing on court transcripts, this play is an account of their trial, which ended in conviction and prison terms for all defendants. The script - Saul Levitt's stage adaptation of Berrigan's original verse rendition - lays out an impassioned argument for following the dictates of one's conscience, even when it involves breaking the law. Each defendant relays what spurred them to take action: a nurse (Paige Lindsey White) who witnessed American planes bomb Ugandan villages, burning children, a couple in Guatemala (Patti Tippo and George Ketsios) who saw American money used to outfit the police while peasants starved, an Alliance for Progress worker (Corey G. Lovett) who became privy to CIA machinations in the Yucatan. Taking it all in is the presiding judge (Adele Robbins). Her sympathies, reflecting ours, lean toward the defendants, even as she rules against them. Under Jon Kellam's direction, cogent performances successfully counteract the script's didactic language and cumbersome progression, even though Robbins' performance lacks nuance. Perhaps most disturbing is the piece's reminder that the aggression and subterfuge of the Bush Administration constituted not a reversal of past policy, but a radicalized extension of it. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 838-4264. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW WHO LIVES? Christopher Meeks' play is engulfed in death: JFK has just been shot, schoolkids duck and cover, and renal disease is inescapably fatal. When blackhearted lawyer Gabriel (Matt Gottlieb) learns his kidneys are shot, it feels like karmic revenge for him being such a prick. Meeks has set the stage for Gabriel's Scrooge-like redemption, and when we learn that an anonymous group of citizens will vote on whether he merits a slot in an experiment, and highly competitive dialysis program, his life is literally at stake. Of course, he fails to get accepted into the program. In desperation, he threatens to sue, thus negotiating a deal which gets him both a machine and a spot on the seven-person board that decides whose life earn a reprieve. Here, Meeks' plot grinds to a halt as the rest of the play alternates between scenes of Gabriel and his estranged wife Margaret (Monica Himmel) arguing, and of the group -- each a symbolic personality -- debating cases that touch on racism, religion, and suicide. Director Joe Ochman pushes the play dangerously close to didacticism -- people don't talk, they yell -- and the overbearing black and white set and costuming bleaches out much of the humanity that needs to be at the heart of this story about life and death. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through March 29. (310) 204-4440. (Amy Nicholson)
THE ZOO STORY It's two guys, one park bench, in Edward Albee's first play. LOS ANGELES AREA VETERANS ARTISTS ALLIANCE, 10858 Culver Blvd., Culver City; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 21. (310) 559-2116.
SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
BETWEEN BIEDERMEIER AND REVOLUTION Prose, poetry and music in tribute to German author Annette von Droste-Hulshoff (1797-1848). Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, L.A.; Thurs., March 26, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 525-3388.
BYE BYE BIRDIE Teen rock star gets drafted in this 1960 musical-comedy, book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, music by Charles Strouse. Long Beach Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Sat., March 21, 2 & 8 p.m.. (213) 480-3232.
A CONVERSATION WITH JULIETTE CARRILLO Meet the director of Lydia, opening in April at the Taper. Free, but resv. requested; contact the Shannon Center box office. Whittier College, 6760 Painter Ave., Whittier; Wed., March 25, 8 p.m.. (562) 907-4203.
DOES HE KNOW? Experimental performance piece by Leslie K. Gray, mixing solo show with shadow play in a story about broken relationships. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; opens March 21; Sat.-Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 823-0710.
GREATEST HITS West Coast Ensemble Theatre presents an evening of songs from popular musicals, including Cabaret; Sunday in the Park With George and Big! The Musical. Hosted by Sam Harris. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Toluca Lake; Mon., March 23, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 460-4443.
HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD EXTRAVANGZA Retro variety show by Captured Aural Phantasy Theater, including art, music, and readings of vintage comic books. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens March 20; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28, www.myspace.com/capturedauralphantasy. (866) 811-4111.
LOS ANGELES WOMEN'S THEATRE FESTIVAL 16th annual celebration of theater, dance, music, poetry and performance art by women of diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Thurs., March 26, 7 p.m.; Fri., March 27, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 29, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 760-0408.
SAY GOODNIGHT, GRACIE Don McArt is George Burns!. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., March 22, 3 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH Reading of Kenneth Lonergan's story of disaffected Reagan-era teens, to be recorded for radio series The Play's the Thing. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Through March 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 21, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., March 22, 4 p.m.. (310) 440-4500.