Stage Raw: Photograph 51
THE 30TH ANNUAL L.A. WEEKLY AWARDS, HOSTED BY JAKE BRODER AND VANESSA CLAIRE SMITH (OF LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA) IS HAPPENING AT THE EL REY ONE WEEK FROM TODAY, MONDAY NIGHT MARCH 30. DOORS OPEN AT 6:30 P.M., AND NO IT'S NOT TOO LATE TO RSVP OR BUY TICKETS.
BRODER AND SMITH ARE JOINED BY A BEVY OF DANCING GIRLS, PLUS ZEV YAROSLAVSKY, GIL CATES, MICHAEL RITCHIE, BARBARA BECKLEY, TERENCE McFARLAND, DEAN MARTIN, FRANK SINATRA, AND MANY MORE CELEBRITIES, DEAD AND ALIVE.
PHOTOGRAPH 51 IS THIS WEEK'S PICK
This West Coast premiere of Anna Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play, Photograph 51, concerns Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting, the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel Billet), and her graduate assistant Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris) than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, "Dr. Wilkins, I don't do jokes. I do science." Her confidence and professionalism leads to an uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick (Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space, turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert, whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit, and deep pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped crack the Pyrex ceiling reminds us of the need to reexamine "his"tory, and should not be missed. The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 3. (323) 663-1525.
All of the weekend's NEW REVIEWS are embedded in the coming week's COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS. To access, press the "Continue Reading" tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for March 27-April 2, 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
AND THE AWARD GOES TO... The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles salutes Oscar-winning songs in this awards-show parody. Hosted by Miss Coco Peru. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., March 28, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 29, 3 p.m., www.gmcla.org. (323) 467-9741.
BLACK ANGELES OVER TUSKEGEE The Black Gents of Hollywood present Layon Gray's world-premiere drama about African-American fighter pilots. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 28; Sat., 7:45 p.m.; thru May 2. (818) 754-5725.
CAPTAIN DAN DIXON VS. THE MOTH SLUTS FROM THE FIFTH DIMENSON Matthew Sklar's sci-fi sendup about space explorers and insect women. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 27; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 4. (818) 202-4120.
THE DEVIL WITH BOOBS Sub-Devil First Class Barlocco possesses the wrong body, in Dario's Fo's satire. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens March 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 16. (323) 882-6912.
42ND STREET Broadway hopeful lands the lead, music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin, book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Fred Kavli Theatre for the Performing Arts, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; opens March 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 5. (805) 449-2787.
GLOVES REQUIRED "Poetic indulgence" by Zombie Joe's Underground. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens March 28; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 202-4120.
LAND OF THE TIGERS Tiger tale by Burglars of Hamm. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens March 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (310) 281-8337.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE John Lahr updates Richard Condon's political thriller. Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; opens March 27; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 2, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
MUNCHED Kim Porter's drama about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; opens March 28; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 2. (323) 960-5571.
MY UNCLE ARLY British theater company Hoipolloi's "family-friendly" performance piece, inspired by the nonsense writings of Edward Lear. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; March 27-28, 7:30 p.m.; March 28-29, 1 p.m.. (310) 825-2101.
THE PRODIGAL FATHER Larry Dean Harris' story of a father with Alzheimer's and his gay son. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens March 27; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru April 26. (323) 957-1884.
RAIN Beatles tribute show, now in "surround sound"!. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; March 31-April 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 5, 1 & 6:30 p.m., www.raintribute.com. (213) 365-3500.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; opens March 29; Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru May 10. (310) 226-6148.
SURVIVED Iraq War veteran is laid to rest, in Tom Burmester's drama. Part of Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble's "War Cycle.". Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; opens April 2; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 25. (800) 595-4849.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE
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; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; Sat., April 11, 4 p.m.; thru April 11. (818) 955-8101.
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. (LE3) El Portal
Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 5. (818) 508-4200.
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; 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.
GO FROST/NIXON After Stacy Keach as Nixon in Frost/Nixon, which opened last night at the Ahmanson, finished a late night phone call to interview-host David Frost (Alan Cox) in what could be called 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, it hasn't yet arrived on DVD. 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. (SLM) 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
NEW REVIEW GO GHOSTS There's nothing supernatural about Henrik Ibsen's 1881 drama: his ghosts are our own bitter memories and the old, dead ideas that continue to confine and stifle us. The form and the language may be dated, but the issues are as fresh as ever. Mrs. Alving (Deborah Strang) has crucified herself in the service of duty and respectability that narrow provincial society and her own hypocritical minister, Pastor Manders (Joel Swetow), have drilled into her. But her efforts to do the right thing have back-fired because they were based on lies, and her attempts to shield her son (J. Todd Adams) from hard truths have almost destroyed him. Ibsen has structured his play like Oedipus Rex -- or a modern whodunit. On a seemingly ordinary day, inconvenient truths keep emerging, inexorably, till everything and everyone is morally compromised or destroyed. Director-adapter Michael Murray has assembled a fine cast (including Mark Bramhall and understudy Rebecca Mozo); he calibrates their performances with precision, and reveals a sharp eye for Ibsen's dark comedy. If one wanted to quibble, one might wish the last scene had been played for a bit less melodrama, but overall it's a terrific, coherent, and always engrossing production. Nikki Delhomme provided the fine costumes. A Noise Within, 234 South Brand Boulevard, Glendale; in alternating rep through May 9; call for schedule. (818) 240-0910. (Neal Weaver)
Ghosts Photo by Craig Schwartz
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; Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 5. (714) 708-5555.
NEW REVIEW GO LOUIS & KEELY: LIVE AT THE SAHARA I haven't seen this musical study of '50s lounge-act crooners Louis Prima and Keely Smith since its transcendent premiere at Sacred Fools Theatre last year, and oh, is it different. Documentary and Oscar-nominated film maker Taylor Hackford has been busy misguiding writer-performers Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith's musical. Taylor took over from director Jeremy Aldridge, who brought it to life in east Hollywood. Smith and Broder have drafted an entirely new book, added onstage characters - including Frank Sinatra (Nick Cagle) who, along with Broder and Smith, croons a ditty. (As though Cagle can compete with Sinatra's voice, so embedded into the pop culture.) They've also added Prima's mother (Erin Matthews) and other people who populated the lives of the pair. The result is just a little heartbreaking: The essence of what made it so rare at Sacred Fools has been re-vamped and muddied into a comparatively generic bio musical, like Stormy Weather(about Lena Horne) or Ella(about Ella Fitzgerald). It used to be so much more because it was so much less. What was a kind of musical poem is now an explanation. What was mysterious is now explicit, not only in the play but in slide projections.What made this musical so rare was the simplicity of its premise: Prima, a lounge act singer whose act is dying brings in a 16-year-old, Smith, to save his act. She falls for him; he tortures her by rebuffing her romantically and exploiting her off-stage passions on the stage. After they eventually marry, her talent overshadows his, and the off-stage jealousy and hostility energizes the stage act. Prima's yearning for fame leaves him exiled and in a coma, where the play begins and ends. This entire story was channelled through the two characters and the onstage band. Every song, from "Basin Street Blues" to "I've Got You Under My Skin" was a manifestation of either Prima's quest for immortality or the jealousies occurring in their partnership. The music met the text-book definition of how songs are supposed to serve a musical, to express what can't be said in life. But if Frank Sinatra grabs the stage to croon a song that comments on their marriage, or Prima's mother stands ironing stage left, that rarefied bubble is shattered. There was one riveting scene where young Keely Smith approached one of the musicians for comfort - sliding precariously down the slope of betrayal. That scene, an illustration of how a story could be told within the strict confines of a tightly constructed world, is gone, but so is that world. Hackford clearly never understood or appreciated the pristine theatricality of what Broder, Smith and Aldridge had carved. The play's core and tone have been diminished by the cinematic expanse of a documentary, rife with psychological theories and the gratuitous appearance of (and scenes with) other characters. Add to that a tonal shift: The musical's original heart of darkness has been sprayed over by a larger proportion of upbeat numbers replacing some of the reflective ballads. Gone are "Tenderly/Can't help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine," "Come Rain or Come Shine", and "I've Got You Under My Skin." The good news is the terrific musicianship, the musical direction originally by Dennis Kaye and now shared by Broder and Paul Litteral, remains as sharp as ever, as are the title performances. Broder's lunatic edge and Bobby Darin singing style has huge appeal, while Vanessa Claire Smith has grown ever more comfortable in the guise and vocal stylings of Keely Smith. It was the music that originally sold this show, and should continue to do so. With luck, perhaps Broder and Smith haven't thrown out their original script. 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.; through April 26. (310) 208-54545. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Foreground, Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder in Louis & Keely. Photo courtesy of the Geffen Playhouse
THE PROJECTIONIST Michael Sargent's comedy about employee antics at a seedy movie house. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Through March 28, 8 p.m.; Through April 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 4, 7 & 9:30 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.
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 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. (DK) Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Griffith Park; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. (323) 667-2000.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
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 28. (323) 960-7744. A Theatre 4S Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
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 April 19. (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 April 26. (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.
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.
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.
HOME SIEGE HOME The Ghost Road Company reinterprets Aeschylus' Oresteia as a trilogy. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 3. (323) 461-3673.
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.
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.
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.; Fri.-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. See
cover story this week.
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. (PB) Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; through April 5th. (323) 462-8460.
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.
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. (NW) 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.
NEW WORKS BY MURRAY MEDNICK Three full-length Mednick works, in rep: Clown Show for Bruno, The Destruction of the Fourth World, Girl on a Bed. (Schedule varies, call for info.). Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. Fourth Place, L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru April 18, www.paduaplaywrights.net. (213) 625-1766.
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. (MK) Son of Semele Ensemble, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through March 29. firstname.lastname@example.org. A Post Fact Productions Production.
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 Mar. 29. http://gomenander.com Menander Theatre Company
NEW REVIEW THEATER PICK PHOTOGRAPH 51 This West Coast premiere of Anna Ziegler's powerful yet subtle play, Photograph 51, concerns Rosalind Franklin, the scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA. Set against Travis Gale Lewis' cleverly accretive set and illuminated by Kathi O'Donohue's complex and variegated lighting, the play takes us into a seminal period in biophysics. No sooner are we introduced to Rosalind (Aria Alpert), her colleague Dr. Wilkins (Daniel Billet), and her graduate assistant Maurice Gosling (Graham Norris) than Rosalind declares in no uncertain terms, "Dr. Wilkins, I don't do jokes. I do science." Her confidence and professionalism leads to an uncomfortable friction with Wilkins and the rest of the chauvinistic male scientific establishment, including Watson (Ian Gould) and Crick (Kerby Joe Grubb), who are simultaneously in search of the genetic blueprint. While Rosalind remains the consummate professional, even cold at times, she does reveal slivers of her inner life through correspondence with American scientist Don Casper (Ross Hellwig). As each side gets closer to the genetic blueprint, one of Rosalind's photographs ends up becoming crucial to unlocking the mystery. Director Simon Levy efficiently orchestrates the manipulation of time and space, turning vast leaps into imperceptible segues, and inspiring powerful performances from his actors. The entire cast sparkles behind Alpert, whose portrayal of Rosalind's ruthless efficiency, biting wit, and deep pain is a tour de force that brings to mind Meryl Streep's take on Anna Wintour. This tribute to a woman who helped crack the Pyrex ceiling reminds us of the need to reexamine "his"tory, and should not be missed. The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through May 3. (323) 663-1525. (Mayank Keshavia)
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.
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.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru May 2. (310) 281-8337.
NEW REVIEW SIN, A CARDINAL DEPOSED The 2002 deposition of Cardinal Bernard Law had all the elements of great theater: small heroes, a giant villain, and a troublesome morality that raised more questions than it answered. But while all the pieces are there, they still need to be shaped, and playwright Michael Murphy simply trims the transcripts and presents a fictionally synthesized laywer (Steven Culp) and his inquisition of the publicly disgraced (but Vatican-condoned) Cardinal (Joe Spano). It's smart and interesting, but wearisomely literal. This leaves director Paul Mazursky little to do but stage it as a stiff tableaux -- the Catholic Church's last ethically superior supper -- centered on the deposition table. At that table, the Cardinal is flanked by his lawyer (Carl Bressler) and his fictionalized opponent. Add to this trio two actors who read the letters of witnesses, truth seekers, and church officials (Edita Brychta and Jack Maxwell, both great at shifting through a dozen accents) and a molestation victim (Christian Campbell) who oversees it all in silence. While the cast is quite good, that all are reading from scripts adds to the inertia, leaving us restless enough to wish that Murphy had dug beneath the surface and unearthed questions he only gestures towards, such as the coexistence of good and evil in priests whose six days of benevolence will never balance their afternoons of selfish harm. Hayworth Theater, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru April 19. (323) 960-4442. (Amy Nicholson)
Sin: A Cardinal Deposed Photo by Eric Curtis
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.
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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 26. (800) 838-3006.
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.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 745-8527.
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 Antaeus Company presents Arthur Schnitzler's romantic roundelay. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru March 28. (818) 506-5436.
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.
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. (BR) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Toluca Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26; (818) 846-5323.
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 28. (800) 838-3006.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: BEGINNINGS Seven late-night vignettes by Theatre Unleashed. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru April 18. (818) 849-4039.
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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 19. (818) 849-4039.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO THE BOURGEOIS GENTILHOMME You'd think, from reading the world press, that racism and, by extension, classism, had suddenly been vanquished from the nation - overnight, by a stunning national election. Such is the power of symbolism and hope. Sooner or later, we will settle into a more realistic view of who we are, and were, and how we have evolved in ways perhaps more subtle than the current "we are the world" emotional gush would lead one to believe. It's in this more self-critical (rather than celebratory) frame of mind that Moliè's 1670 comedy - a satire of snobbery and social climbing - will find its relevance renewed. For now, however, Frederique Michel (who directed the play) and Charles Duncombe's fresh and bawdy translation-adaptation serves up a bouquet of comedic delights that offer the caution that -- though celebrating a milestone on the path of social opportunity is worthy of many tears of joy -- perhaps we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves with self-congratulation. Bourgeois Gentlemanwas first presented the year Tartuffe, and it contains many of the hallmarks of its more famous cousin: a deluded and pompous protagonist (Jeff Atik); a con man (Troy Dunn) aiming for social advancement by speculating on the blind arrogance of his patron; and the imposition of an arranged marriage, by the insane master of the house, for his crest-fallen daughter (Alisha Nichols). The play was originally written as a ballet-farce, for which composer Jean-Baptiste Lully performed in the production before the court of Louis XIV. Michel's visually opulent staging features scenery (designed by Duncombe) that includes a pair of chandeliers, and costumes (by Josephine Poinsot) in shades of red, maroon and black. Michel employs Lully's music in a nod to the original. (The singing is far too thin even to support the jokes about its competence.) Michel also includes a lovely ballet by performers in mesmerizing gtears of a clownh masks, a choreographed prance of the fops, and she has characters bounding and spinning during otherwise realistic conversations, in order to mock style over substance. Comedy has a maximum refrigeration temperature of 75 degrees, and when that temperature was exceeded during Act 1 on the performance I attended, the humor ran off the tracks - despite the broad style being sustained with conviction by the performers. By Act 2, the heat problem had been remedied and the comedy started playing again as it should. In fact, I haven't seen a comic tour de force the likes of Atik's Monseiur Jordain since Alan Bomenfeld's King Ubu at A Noise Within. As Jourdain is trying to woo a countess (the striking Deborah Knox), Atik plays him attired in silks and bows of Ottoman extravagance, with a blissfully stupid expression - every dart of his eyes reveals Jordain's smug self-satisfaction that's embedded with delirious ignorance. (SLM) City Garage, 1340½ (alley) Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 8. (310) 319-9939.
BURN THIS Lanford Wilson's drama about four New Yorkers and a funeral is a slippery portrait of love and loss. Staged with a warm cast, it's flush with hope; just as easily, though, a more aloof ensemble can flip it into a play about emotional isolation where the polite relationship between Anna (Marisa Petroro) and perfect-on-paper boyfriend Burton (Jonathan Blandino) casts a cold shadow across all dynamics, making her devotion to callously funny roomate Larry (Aaron Misakian) and temperamental lover Pale (a wrenching and infuriating Dominic Comperatore) seem nearly like pathological self-punishment. Director John Ruskin sees this as a love story -- the scene breaks twinkle with sentimental music -- however his cast isn't up to it and hasn't even been instructed to at least pretend to be listening to each other. (Burton's confession of a random blowjob from a strange man rolls off Anna like he was droning on about the weather.) Comperatore's combustible Pale has four times the spark of the rest of the ensemble -- when he bursts into the scene, we see the gulf between what Wilson's play could be and what this staging actually is. (AN) Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through April 25. (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.
NEW REVIEW DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK? Writer/performer Aaron Braxton has passion and talent - both amply evident in this promising work-in-progress about the difficulties of teaching in the urban classroom. A 13-year veteran with L.A. Unified, Braxton builds his piece around his early experience as a substitute teacher filling in for an old-timer - 33 years on the job - who one day ups and quits. A gift for mimicry brings the performer's characters into clear comic focus: himself as the beleaguered Mr. Braxton, several colorful problem students, their even more colorful and problematic parents and another staff member -- a well-meaning elderly bureaucrat in charge of the school's counterproductive testing program. At times Braxton steps away from dramatizing the action to speak to the audience directly about the frustrations of trying to make a difference, contrasting his own upbringing as the son of a teacher, taught to respect education, with the imperviously disdainful attitude of his pupils. He also sings 4 songs, displaying a beautiful voice. The main problem with the piece is its disjointedness and discontinuity; the songs, reflective of Braxton's message, are only tenuously connected to the narrative, itself a patchwork collection of anecdotes juxtaposed against addresses to the audience. This gives the show a hybrid feel - part performance, part moral exposition, part musical showcase. Yet there's plenty of power and potential here. Kathleen Rubin directs. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through April 18. (310) 358-9936. (Deborah Klugman)
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.
NEW REVIEW JUMPING THE MEDIAN Playwright Steve Connell's collection of four one act plays may bill itself as "unexpected," but for the most part the vignettes are sadly prosaic, mining familiar romantic tropes and themes. Strongest of the set is the promisingly stark "Us And Them," in which a bubbly young couple (Tyler Moore and Sara Sido) move into their new home, which was previously owned by a miserable, older couple (In-Q and Elizabeth Maxwell). Imaginatively staged by co-directors Connell and Emily Weisberg, the set is divided into two quadrants, showing both couples in the same house at different times - and the piece artfully hints at the haunting (if not necessarily logical) idea that the young loving couple must inevitably turn into the older miserable couple. Sadly, the other vignettes are not able to rise to the same emotionally nuanced level. "Jumping the Median" is a plodding, overwritten opus about the long, long, long courtship of a young couple (Ida Darvish and Connell), who endlessly woo each other at that hoariest of one act play locales, the iconic park bench. In "Love Thy Neighbors," whose choppy dialogue and clumsily cartoonish tone has the sloppy and random feel of having been written in haste, a suburban mom (Sara Sido) welcomes the neighbors for dinner - and the neighbors somewhat inexplicably turn out to be literal characters out of ancient Greek drama. Connell is a slam poet of some national reputation, so it's natural that he and Weisberg's crisp staging has a dark, streetwise edge. It's just a pity the writing itself devolves so frequently into dull cliché. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 19. http://www.plays411.com/jumpingthemedian. (Paul Birchall)
Jumping the Median Photo by Michael Farmer Photography
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 20. (866) 468-3399 or http://www.MadeMeNuclear.com Produced by the Sarcoma Alliance.
MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's comedy of manners, marriage proposals, and matrimony. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 26. (310) 477-2055.
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.
NEW REVIEW GO THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES The central character in Molière's comedy, here translated and adapted by Frédérique Michel & Charles Duncombe could be and often is a punching bag. But not here. Arnolphe is another in a stream of Molière's aging, patronizing nitwits (like Orgon on Tartuffe) who presume that they can control the devotions and passions of young women in their care. In Tartuffe, when Orgon's daughter protests his insistence that she break her wedding plans to her beloved suitor in order to marry the clergyman he prefers, Orgon figures her rebellion is just a impetuous, child-like phase. In The School for Wives, there's a similar mind-set to Arnolphe (Bo Roberts), who has tried to sculpt his young ward, Agnes (Jessica Madison), into his future wife. He's known her since she was 4, and he's strategically kept her closeted, as though in a convent, hoping thereby to shape her obedience and gratitude. Just as he's about to wed her, in stumbles young Horace (Dave Mack) from the street below her window, and the youthful pair are smitten with eachother, soon conniving against the old bachelor. Horace, not realizing that Arnolphe is the man keeping Agnes as his imprisoned ward, keeps confiding in the older man about his and Agnes' schemes, fueling Arnolphe's exasperation and fury. Perhaps it's the use of director Michel's tender, Baroque sound-tracks, or the gentle understatement of Roberts' performance and Arnolphe, but the play emerges less as a clown show, and more as a wistful almost elegiac rumination on aging and folly. Arnolphe tried to create a brainless wife as though from a petri dish, an object he can own, and the more she rejects him, the more enamored he becomes of her, until his heart breaks. The pathos is underscored by the obvious intelligence of Madison's Agnes - an intelligence that Arnolphe is blind to. The production's reflective tone supersedes Michel's very stylized, choreographic staging (this company's trademark). The ennui is further supported by a similarly low-key portrayal by David E. Frank as Arnolphe's blithe friend and confidante, Chrysalde. In In fact, when lisping, idiot servants (Cynthia Mance and Ken Rudnicki) keep running in circles and crashing into each other, Michel's one attempt at Commedia physicality is at odds with the production rather than a complement to it. Company costumer Josephine Poinsot (surprising she doesn't work more) provides luscious period vestments and gowns, and Duncombe's delightful production design, includes a gurgling fountain, a tub of white roses, and abstract hints of some elegant, Parisian court. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley entrance); Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through May 31. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris)
School for Wives Photo by Paul Rubenstein
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 Gameby 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.
NEW REVIEW TRAGEDY, A TRAGEDY There are some good ideas in absurdist playwright Will Eno's metaphysical satire of the vapid, spectacle-driven infotainment that is local TV news. Unfortunately, stretching what is at best a one-gag comedy sketch into 80 intermissionless minutes isn't one of them. The pity is that it should have been a joke worth telling. When a mysterious, cosmic calamity extinguishes all starlight, including the sun's, and thereby plunges the earth into perpetual darkness, a hapless and incredibly inept local news team is left grappling with how to provide live TV coverage of the biggest story in history when there is literally nothing to see. As a deadpan studio anchor (Christopher Spencer) juggles remote feeds from field reporters Stephanie Dorian, Jeff McGinness, and Paul Knox, the realization of having nothing meaningful to communicate soon takes its toll. Unable to report on the outside world, the crew's malaprop-mangled ad libbing slowly turns inward on the terror and emptiness of their own existence. And while an able cast (Spencer and Dorian are particularly fine) nails the insipid banalities and portentous posturing of their characters, the material's comic potential too soon evaporates. Director Eric Hamme fails to find either the rhythms or the timing needed to extend the laughs, while Gisela Valenzuela's bleak, all-black minimalist set and an overbearing sound design by Matari 2600 only add to the crushing boredom. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 18. (866) 811-4111. (Bill Raden)
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 29. (310) 838-4264. (Deborah Klugman)
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. (AN) 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.
THEATER SPECIAL EVENTS
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; Sat.-Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; thru March 29. (310) 823-0710.
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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 28, www.myspace.com/capturedauralphantasy. (866) 811-4111.
KISS MY BUTT Monthly sketch-comedy show by Theatre Unleashed's Die Grüppe. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Wed., April 1, 10 p.m.. (818) 849-4039.
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; Fri., March 27, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 28, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 29, 2 & 7 p.m.. (818) 760-0408.
PERSONAL IS POLITICAL Poetry/performance festival, curated by Michael Datcher. Includes a poetry slam and round-robin readings. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; April 2-4, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
PIÑATA Christine Schoenwald's personal-confession show, this month with Kelly Carlin McCall, Penelope Lombard, Cary Odes, Adam Gropman, Roy Cruz and Lan Tran. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., April 2, 8 p.m.. (323) 653-6886.
REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT Army wife awaiting her husband's return from overseas loses herself in fantasy, in José Rivera's play. Museum of Latin American Art, 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach; Sun., March 29, 5 p.m.; Fri., April 10, 8 p.m.. (562) 437-1689.
THE SACRED PROSTITUTE Santo Cervello's play about "the union of the masculine and feminine essence in the presence of the divine." Followup presentation by Grace Lebecka. Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St., Santa Monica; Sat., March 28, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 664-3767.
SKETCHCOMEDYSHOW.COM Sketch, improv and film, courtesy Projekt NewSpeak. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; Sat., March 28, 7 p.m., www.sketchcomedyshow.com. (213) 625-7000.
TINY VAUDEVILLE 826LA hosts this once-a-month variety show benefiting children's writing and tutoring programs. The Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; Last Monday of every month, 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 28, www.826la.org/store-tickets/. (323) 413-8200.
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES See GoLA., $40-$125. Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Fri., March 27, 8 p.m.. (800) 595-4849.