Stage Raw: The Civilians to do L.A. Porno
That would be us. The San Fernando Valley, to be precise. The Civilians' Artistic Director Steve Cosson (This Beautiful City), composer Michael Friedman (This Beautiful City," Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and book writer Bess Wohl (Cats Talk Back, In) have "begun investigations in Los Angeles for an untitled porn musical." (I'll bet they have.) The new project has been commissioned by Center Theatre Group, which presented The Civilians' This Beautiful City at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2008.
This musical is being developed under Center Theatre Group's New Play Production Program (NPPP), a laboratory to create new work. Am I dreaming or didn't they boot a handful of new works labs out of the building a few years back? Yet NPPP is described as "a unique and comprehensive new initiative which ensures that a variety of vibrant new theatrical work is produced on CTG's three stages - the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum and the Kirk Douglas Theatre." The difference appears to be that Gordon Davidson's labs-of-yore were playwright-based and designed to send new work into further development around the country, whereas Michael Ritchie's NPPP is working with established companies and is commissioning works piecemeal.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 7 - 13, 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
ADELINE'S PLAY Kit Steinkellner's play about "creating theatre during the Great Depression.". Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; opens Aug. 13; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 5, www.latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
BREAKING AND ENTERING Colin Mitchell's dark comedy about a reclusive legendary author and a fan with a manuscript. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Aug. 12; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (310) 364-0535.
CLOSER THAN EVER Lodestone Theatre Ensemble presents an all-Asian-American revival of Richard Maltby Jr.'s musical revue. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Aug. 8; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (323) 993-7245.
CONTEMPORARY CONSTRUCTIONS Shara Kane's depression poem 4.48 Psychosis and David Ives' absurdist comedy All in the Timing. (In rep, call for schedule.). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (818) 849-4039.
CROSSING THE BRIDGE LEONIX ensemble's comedic melodrama about death in America. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Aug. 7-8, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 9, 3 & 7 p.m.. (818) 618-4772.
EL VERDE: VIVA LA FRITA! Superhero El Verde battles "surrealist villain" Frita Kahlo, in Anthony Aguilar's episodic comedy. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (323) 263-7684.
GETTING OUT Marsha Norman's story of a mixed-up girl just released from prison. Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 20, www.lyrichyperion.com...
THE GOLDDIGGERS Six of the original Dean Martin "Golddiggers" reunite after 40 years. With comedians Ronnie Sperling and Jerry Hauck. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 9, 3 p.m.. (818) 508-0281.
HERRINGBONE Vaudeville musical starring B.D. Wong as a tap-dancing 8-year-old. Book by Tom Cone, music by Skip Kennon, lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh. La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla; opens Aug. 7; Aug. 7-8, 8 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (858) 550-1010.
HORROR-FEST Zombie Joe's Underground presents four horrific short plays, all new: Growing; A Lesson Learned; End of the Road; Procession of Devils. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (818) 202-4120.
THE LAST 5 YEARS Jason Robert Brown's musical romance. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat..; thru Aug. 23. (310) 548-7672.
LIFE COULD BE A DREAM Writer-director Roger Bean gives a banned boy band the Marvelous Wonderettes treatment. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 7; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 27, www.plays411.com/life. (323) 960-4412.
MANISH BOY Comedian Ralph Harris returns home via his one-man show. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Aug. 12; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 7. (323) 960-1056.
THE SEXUAL NEUROSES OF OUR PARENTS Developmentally disabled girl discovers her sexuality, by Lukas Barfuss. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, www.itsmyseat.com. (818) 500-7200.
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER Free public performance of Oliver Goldsmith's comedy, courtesy Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; opens Aug. 8; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 23, www.ccpt.org. (310) 712-5482.
SUMMER CAMP: ONE-UPS! Solo shows by Jaime Andrews, Terry Tocantins and Richard Levinson. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Aug. 7-9, 9 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: REVELATIONS Third chapter of Theatre Unleashed's collection of late-night vignettes. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 8; Sat., 10:15 p.m.; thru Aug. 30.
WEIRD ON TOP Improv comedy, indistinguishable by press release. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., Aug. 13, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 16, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 15, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
GO THE CHERRY ORCHARD In 1950, writer-director Josh Logan transferred Chekhov's play to the American South in an adaptation called The Wisteria Trees. Now, director Heidi Helen Davis, and Ellen Geer have reset the play near Charlottesville, Virginia, and updated it to 1970. The ex-serfs have become the descendants of slaves, and Chekhov's Madame Ranevsky has become Lillian Randolph Cunningham (Ellen Geer), the owner of the famous cherry orchard that's "mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica." Though it's a very free adaptation, it admirably preserves the play's flavor and spirit. And while Davis' production skewers the characters for their vanity, folly and ineptitude, it treats them with affectionate respect. She's blessed with a wonderful cast, including William Dennis Hunt as the landowner's garrulous, fatuous brother; J.R. Starr as an ancient family retainer; Melora Marshall as the eccentric governess Carlotta; and Steve Matt as the grandson of slaves ― and a go-getter businessman who longs to be the master. The production is easygoing, relaxed, faithful in its own way, and often very funny. It may be the most fully integrated (in every sense of the word) production of the play that we're likely to see. (NW) Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; call for schedule; through September 26. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com.
CROWNS This musical by Regina Taylor examines the passionate attachment of certain churchgoing African-American women for their hats. Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, it turns on the interaction between Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a tough street girl from Brooklyn raging with grief over the murder of her brother, and various women she encounters after she's shipped off to South Carolina to live with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). The book that was the musical's source material consists of an elegant collection of photo portraits and firsthand reminiscences; Taylor appropriates these as monologues, then juxtaposes them with original dialogue and gospel hymns. The thrust of the show -- increasingly churchly as the evening wears on -- is the effort to educate Yolanda regarding the importance of hats to her identity and her spirituality. Under Israel Hicks' direction, the focus is clear but its execution -- both script and performance -- is disappointing. Five female performers each deliver various monologues that simply don't add up to recognizable characters who serve the story -- itself a cobbled construct. Lackluster choreography, less than top-notch vocals and indifferent lighting also detract, as does the production's two-hour length, without intermission. The strongest element is the outstanding contribution of Clinton Derricks-Carroll in a variety of male roles, but especially as a fervently possessed, pulpit-thumping preacher. In an uneven ensemble, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Suzzanne Douglas are worthy of note, as are the instrumentals, under Eric Scott Reed's musical direction. (DK) Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16. (626) 356-PLAY. An Ebony Repertory Theatre/Pasadena Playhouse production.
GO CYMBELINE What might Shakespeare have written if he'd been asked by some 17th-century counterpart of a TV producer to come up with something quick, hot and flashy? It's likely an extravagantly plotted comedy like this one, with story ideas snatched from legend, his peers and some of his own better-developed and more sublime works. Regarded today as one of Shakespeare's more minor plays, this comedy revolves around a king's daughter named Imogen (Willow Geer), banished from court by her father, Cymbeline (Thad Geer), for daring to marry the man of her choice. The plucky gal's travails intensify when a villain named Iachimo (Aaron Hendry, alternating with Steve Matt) decides willy-nilly to slander her to her husband Posthumus (Mike Peebler), who then commands a servant to assassinate her for her alleged infidelity. Her wanderings eventually land her on the doorstep of her father's old enemy, Belarius (Earnestine Phillips), who has raised two of Cymbeline's children (thus Imogen's own siblings) as her own. Director Ellen Geer has fashioned an appealing production laced with an aptly measured dose of spectacle and camp. At its core is Willow Geer's strong and likable princess. As her adoring and, later, raging, jealous spouse, Peebler's Posthumus is earnestly on the mark, while Jeff Wiesen garners deserved laughs as the foppish suitor she'd rejected. The latter meets his end at the hands of the princess' newfound brother, well-played by Matt Ducati. (DK) Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 455-3723.
GO FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Following hard on the ruby-encrusted heels of Broadway's greatest 21st century's phenom Wicked, the Pantages returns to this equally significant Broadway hit from the middle of the last century (nearly a decade as longest running musical) in a spectacular revival. Sholem Aleichem's tale of life in a Jewish shtetl under the thumb of Russia's tzar, dramatized by Joseph Stein with a glorious score and lyrics by Jerry Bock Sheldon Harnick respectively, still generates laughs and other emotions. This production remains loyal to Jerome Robbins' original staging, with expertly recreated direction and choreography by Sammy Dallas Bayes. You won't find any flying or other magical machinery expected in contemporary Broadway fare. It feels like time-traveling 50 years back - yet there's no sense of museum theater here. Leading way is, of course Topol, the Israeli star who first played the lead tole of Tevye on London's West End when he was far too young, then in the 1971 film at the perfect age, now in this "final tour," when he is too old, but still enormously effective as the faithful but constantly God-questioning milkman who sees his Jewish traditions and way of life falling apart. Upon Topol's first entrance he is greeted as a rock star - but the production doesn't rest on his laurels alone; it earns its standing ovation from the merits of the ensemble, musicians and designers. (TP) Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (213) 365-3500.
JULIUS CAESAR Shakespeare's tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 29, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 455-3723.
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). 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. (SLM) 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 May 24. (310) 208-54545.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 455-3723.NEW REVIEW PICK THE MISER
Director Ellen Geer delivers a hilarious and highly polished production of Moliere's comedy. It's a faithful rendition, despite the fact that she's garnished it with several original songs (written with Peter Alsop), a dog, and some creative anachronisms: Neither cod-pieces nor horn-rimmed glasses quite belong in 1668, but they prove capital laugh-getters. The production's greatest asset is Alan Blumenfeld, who delivers a wonderfully demented, larger-than-life performance as the miser Harpagon, calling on the traditions of music-hall, vaudeville and burlesque to create a portrait of monstrous greed and vanity. He's ably assisted Mike Peebler as his rebellious, clothes-horse son Cleante, Melora Marshall as the flamboyant match-maker/bawd Frosine, Ted Barton as a choleric cook/coachman, and Mark Lewis as Cleante's sly, wily side-kick, La Fleche. As the young lovers, Peebler, Samara Frame, Chad Jason Scheppner, and understudy Jennifer Schoch capture the requisite romance, while lampooning the coincidences and shop-worn theatrical conventions of the genre, and a large cast provides fine support. The lavish costumes, including Cleante's outrageous suit-of-too-many-colors, with its gloriously obscene, giggle-inducing cod-piece, are by Shon LeBlanc and Valentino's Costumes. Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga; thru September 27; in rep, call for schedule (310) 455-3723. (Neal Weaver)
MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT Monty Python and the Holy Grail- the 1975 take on Arthurian legend -- is probably not the sharpest sendup in comedians Eric Idle & Associates' body of film work, compared to their later, blistering satire on Biblical lore contained in The Life of Brian(1979) - Brian being Jesus - and on the existential quandaries in The Meaning of Life(1983). The Holy Grailnonetheless contains what was for a generation of fans a blithely anarchistic and singularly British response to a constipated culture. Idle and John Du Prez's long-touring musical, Monty Python's Spamalot, is lifted mostly from The Holy Grailand is at its best when filching dialogue from the movie, with performances that replicate the dry wry humor of faulty assumptions taken to their most idiotic conclusions. In the film, there's a plague sketch in which the city corpse collectors go round with a cart calling, "Bring out your dead." One ill fellow protests that he's "not dead yet," and that in fact he's feeling better. This leads to bickering with the officials until his owner bonks him on the head with a shovel, assuring that he isdead. In the musical, that scene gets played out in a song called "I Am Not Dead Yet," wherein the clout with the shovel occurs twice. Evidently, the joke told once isn't sufficient. With that kind of repetition throughout the musical, the film's brisk tone shifts from the pinpoint sparks of standup comedy to the comparatively lumbering reprises of musical theater, though there's a wonderful parody of Andrew Lloyd Weber torch songs called "The Song That Goes Like This." But the larger issue resides in the motives of creation. Monty Python created comedy in reaction to, and as a comment on, the absurdities of life in Britain, and beyond. In the musical, King Arthur (John O'Hurley) seeks - in addition to the holy grail - a way to get onto Broadway. So this is no longer a vicious comedy about the world, it's a far gentler homage to Monty Python, filled with Sarah Palin jokes and mock-Academy Awards. The idea has undergone a tectonic shift from being pointedly silly to generally silly. These are really the aesthetics of marketing. The result is far more popular than penetrating. The company is unimpeachable, as is Casey Nicholaw's splendidly stupid choreography and Tim Hatley's deliberately cheesy set and costumes. (SLM) Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. 2 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through September 6. (213) 972-4400.
MY WAY: A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO FRANK SINATRA Singers croon Sinatra tunes. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (949) 497-2787.
GO NEVERMORE Poor Edgar. In Dennis Paoli's one-man play, beautifully directed by Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs portrays the bedraggled Southern poet, Poe, in a staged reading. He's a bundle of idiosyncrasies ― tremors and a hesitation to complete sentences. The man is ill with fevers and despondent over the recent death of his wife, yet from the twinkle in Combs' eye, it's clear he rather enjoys the attention of strangers, and is deeply proud of his masterwork, "The Raven," which he'll recite when he gets around to it. His concentration, and his ability to perform, are steadily more impeded by the after effects of a bottle of whiskey, which he clutches at the inside of his suit. Fortunately, he recites "The Tell-Tale Heart" while still lucid, and what an absurd, showoff-y, macabre display it is ― pure Victorian melodrama, in the style of Chekhov's one-act, one-man show: "On the Harmfulness of Tobacco," also about man making a presentation ostensibly for one purpose, while undone by another. Chekhov's character is persecuted by his wife, or by his imaginings of her. Edgar is torn by the presence of his fiancée, who is assessing whether her groom-to-be can stay on the wagon. The harrowing answer becomes self-evident as, in one scene, he goes off on a spontaneous rant against Longfellow; and in another, as he's leaping around to a poem about bells, he abruptly falls off the stage into the orchestra pit. It's an almost unbelievably hammy turn, as mannered as the style of the era he's depciting, a gorgeous rendition of a tragic clown whose heart has been cleaved open by loss and regret. His rendition of "The Raven" is clearly an homage to his late wife, and how any hope of her return is forbidden by the reprise of this show's title. (SLM) Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 29. (323) 666-4268.
NEW REVIEW GO NEW ORIGINAL WORKS FESTIVAL 2009
Program Two of REDCAT's annual showcase of interdisciplinary performance works weighs in as an evening of paradoxes -- both the exhilarating, boundary-breaking kind and the more superciliously bewildering, curatorial variety. The former is delivered via "N1" and its inspired partnering of live-feed video artist Carole Kim and L.A.-based butoh master Oguri, with musical support from avant-improvisationists Alex Cline and Dan Clucas. Ostensibly a choreographic re-conception of the Narcissus myth as a solo dance journey, "N1" is more properly a duet in which the spiritual interiority and time-bending precision of Oguri's butoh-derived physical vocabulary is captured by Kim's high-tech video processing and then projected onto a cage-like set of layered scrims and variously sized screens. The resulting spectacle both preserves the intimacy and gestural tensions of the "live" dance even as it explodes the subjectivity of the dancer in a dazzling, multi-dimensional, cubist montage of varying scales, disorienting angles and points of view. The narrative reaches it's violent climax in a tour de force sequence in which a bloodied and battered Oguri seems to descend into an underworld of menacing shadows only to dissolve in an eye-like pool of unblinking light. Chris Kuhl's expressive, high-key lighting lends the proceedings an atmospheric, appropriately film-noir flavor. If the technical complexity and visionary aesthetics of "N1" could be compared to a game of three-dimensional chess, then "Leop Year (No Jamming)," the seven-song set by art-school rockers Jennifer The Leopard is the evening's game of checkers. Vocalist Stephanie Hutin and bandmates Lauren Fisher, Lana Kim and Marissa Mayer archly ironize '80s Brit-pop and late-'70s No-Wave into a perniciously perky pop repertoire they perform to self-referential comedy videos and an onstage posse of prop-wielding friends. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; The festival concludes with Program Three, Thurs., Aug. 6-Sat., Aug. 8, 8:30 p.m. $18 with Program Three. (213) 237-2800. (Bill Raden)
THE TEMPEST/HENRY V Many would argue that Shakespeare is not meant to be experienced in a darkened proscenium house with fancy sets, a silent audience and plush seating, but instead, with minimal lighting and sets, a boisterous crowd, and no seating at all. Those who prefer the latter will find this production of Shakespeare's final play to their liking. The familiar story about the wronged former Duke of Milan, who is banished to an island with his daughter. How he uses his powers of sorcery to command the isle's faeries to exact revenge on his fellow nobles is performed with traditional minimalism, as well as modern commentary and humor. Director and company co-founder Melissa Chalsma incorporates into the dialogue jokes about cell phones, Martha Stewart and even the Barnsdall performance space. Continuing the modern aesthetic are Daniel Mahler's costumes, which feature a blend of bubble wrap, duct tape and other shiny bits for the faeries and Prospero's cape, in styles ranging from Mafioso (Sebastian) and band geek (Trinculo) to Charlie Chaplain (Stephano). The latter two work well for the bawdy vaudevillian duo, who, along with Caliban, become the most engaging part of the performance. What's gained in comedy, however, is lost in the somber philosophical inquiry that comprises a significant part of the text. A major reason for this is the setting, which, by allowing food, drink and a "family atmosphere," also suffers from the distraction of crying, talking children. While that atmosphere is good for a summer community event, give me the darkened proscenium house for this play. (Mayank Keshaviah). Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (323) 836-0288.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ACME SATURDAY NIGHT ACME's flagship sketch show, with celebrity guest hosts each week., $15. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
GO ALTAR BOYZ For those over the age of 15, boy bands have long been fodder for easy ridicule - stir in Christian rock and malicious burlesque becomes ripe for the picking. But in this outing by playwright Kevin Del Aguila with songwriters Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker, derision is superseded by affection. The book is so sweet and so gentle the lyrics that the show lacks a satisfying satirical bite. But the good news is in the performances. Jesse Bradley, Clifford Bañagale, Jake Wesley Stewart, Robert Acinapura and Kelly Rice blend their disparate personalities, boyish charms and harmonic voices to create an ensemble that could easily play it straight for the right audiences. Choreographer Ameenah Kaplan takes great advantage of the boys' uniform physical agility and athleticism, creating song and dance numbers far more entertaining than the overdone Catholic jokes. Musical director Christopher Lloyd Bratten and his band (Adam Halitzka, Nick Perez and Carson Schutze) are totally in sync, keeping the show bouncy and charming for 90 minutes. Michael Mullen's too-precious rock costumes are terrific and amusing. Only the imminent threat of forced audience participation slightly dulls the glister. (TP) Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 957-1884.
AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare's comedy, re-set in the 1980s San Fernando Valley. (In rep with Snoopy: The Musical; call for schedule.). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 667-0955.
BABY IT'S YOU! American Pop Anthology presents Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's musical biography of Scepter Records founder Florence Greenberg., www.babyitsyouthemusical.com. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (800) 595-4TIX.
GO BIG BRO/LIL BRO In playwright Jonathan Ceniceroz's torn-between-two-lovers potboiler, a wannabe actor named Carlos (Vince Tula) leaves his mature and ailing partner to set up house with a coquettish young gent from his acting class. The wallowing melodrama commences with Carlos resolutely packing his bags, deaf to the incessant pleas of wheelchair-bound Gil (Art McDermott). We next see him in his new digs, in thrall to the alluring Jeremy (understudy David Padilla), whose clothes he's possessively concealed in a power play seemingly intended to proscribe his new boyfriend's coming and goings. Directed by Josh Chambers, the stilted first act unwinds with a rather depthless display of passions, as the financially pressed Carlos struggles to support his increasingly sulky and demanding inamorato. Act 2 improves, however, first because the script acquires some texture, as Jeremy evolves into a narcissistic psychopath, but more so because Padilla -- in his debut stage performance -- makes the most of the material to establish a beguilingly ominous presence. McDermott is persuasive as the catty but perspicacious invalid. To the playwright's credit, the drama ultimately detours from a sensationalized denouement into one more sensible and satisfying. (Deborah Klugman ). Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/70572. (323) 883-1717.
CABARET THE MUSICAL The economy is terrible; unemployment is rising; sex and promiscuity abound; traditions are constantly broken, creating backlash from social conservatives -- of course, it's Germany in the early 1930s. Against the backdrop of the Weimar Republic, Kander and Ebb's 1966 classic musical follows American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Michael Bernardi) through his affair with English singer Sally Bowles (Kalinda Gray), whom he meets in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis are taking over. At the top of the show, the iconic "Willkommen" introduces the club and its dancers -- the Kit Kat Girls and Boys -- as well as the Emcee (Eduardo Enrikez), whose outrageous persona is a dead ringer for Joel Grey's 1972 Oscar-winning performance in Bob Fosse's movie. When not at the cabaret, Cliff stays in a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Annalisa Erickson), who has a soft corner for local fruit vendor Herr Shultz (Jayson Kraid) and constantly battles with tenant Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) over the stream of sailors who flow through Kost's bedroom in order to help "pay the rent." Cliff, on the other hand, pays the rent by giving English lessons. Director Judy Norton's use of table seating and a working bar completes the cabaret ambiance, but her transitions drag and she fails to bring out the je ne sais quoi -- or perhaps ich weiss nicht -- that would have made the brilliant source material leap off the stage. Even Greg Hakke's musical direction is sluggish at times and Derrick McDaniel's lighting leaves many dark spots onstage. The performances, unlike the German accents, are solid, but only Enrikez really stands out. (MK) MET Theater; 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through August 9. (323) 965-9996. www.plays411.com/cabaret. (Mayank Keshaviah)
GO CARVED IN STONE In Jeffrey Hartgraves' comedy, it's always cocktail hour in the afterlife lounge shared by Truman Capote (Kevin Remington), Quentin Crisp (Leon Acord), Oscar Wilde (Jesse Merlin) and Tennessee Williams (Curt Bonnem). Witty aphorisms fly fast and furious, as each writer tries for the perfect bon mot to top the others. Into this literary hothouse stumbles Gryphon Tott (Levi Damione), who can't believe he's dead. He's further perplexed by the denizens of the lounge because he's heterosexual. The other writers explain that he's a gay icon, which has brought him to their cozy setting. They add that the door though which he entered occasionally opens, but the four literary heavy heavyweights have no desire to move on. Judy Garland and Bette Davis (both played by Amanda Abel) make a brief appearance, and leave just as suddenly. William Shakespeare (Alex Egan) stays around for a while longer to much hectoring from the lounge habitués. Tott's status as a gay icon unfolds slowly ― he borrowed background scenery from a gay writer, bringing up the question of plagiarism. The cast is superb under the fast-moving direction of John Pabros Clark, and the pacing and timing are remarkable. (SR) Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues., 8 p.m.; through Sept. 5. www.carvedinstonetheplay.com. (310) 473-5483.
CHARIOT It is 1987 and the Hills are the only black family in a tidy but sterile suburb of the San Fernando Valley. In a too-successful attempt at assimilation, the family members have repressed nearly every emotional and spiritual problem that comes their way. In Steven Lee's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink melodrama, Grandmother (Gayle La Rone) arrives from the South in her chariot (an expensive sports car) to spread her wealth and shake the family loose from its self-loathing and hypocrisy. Lee's script gives each of the generally solid actors enormous scene-chewing speeches, and director Cary Thompson encourages high-powered performances, which never let up and, unfortunately, too often turn to screaming matches and chest-pounding. Lee's exhaustive list of dramatic issues centers on homosexuality, psychosis, religious rejection, alcoholism and violence. Near the end we wonder why he left out incest -- oh, never mind we get to that, too. Thomas (TJ) Walker provides an array of terrific costumes, which offer the visual cues not found in the simple set pieces that create the modest suburban home. (Tom Provenzano). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 6. (323) 960-7788.
GO COMING HOME A sequel to his 1995 postapartheid play, Valley Song, Athol Fugard's latest work, Coming Home, tells of the decimation of one person's dream and the recasting of hope from its ashes. The luminous Deidrie Henry portrays Veronica, a once-aspiring singer who returns to her rural childhood home, child in hand, after 10 bitterly disappointing and difficult years in Cape Town. Resilient and nurturing despite her anguish, Veronica has a single-minded purpose: to establish a home for her son Mannetjie (Timothy Taylor and then by Matthew Elam as he ages), who will need support and protection in the event of her demise from AIDS. With her beloved grandfather, her only relative, dead, she turns for help to her childhood friend Alfred (Thomas Silcott), a sweet, slow-minded man who has always loved her dearly but whom her son despises. Spanning five years, the story depicts Veronica's transformation from a buoyant woman to a sick but seething, determined molder of her son's future to, finally, a bedridden invalid, yet with enough energy to foster her boy's burgeoning ambition to write. Part of Fugard's ongoing reflection of his native country's woes, the play contains sometimes burdensome exposition, which is offset by its masterfully drawn characters and deeply embedded humor. Under Stephen Sachs' direction, Henry shines, while Silcott is equally outstanding. As Mannetjie, whom we watch evolving into manhood, Taylor and especially Elam both impress; Adolphus Ward skillfully fashions the ghost of Veronica's grandfather. (DK) Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (No perf July 4.) (323) 663-1525.
GO THE DEBATE OVER COURTNEY O'CONNELL OF COLUMBUS, NEBRASKA If we're to believe playwright Mat Smart, which is probably not a good idea, the bloody rampage of a jealous lover in 1894 Columbus, Nebraska led to the "Morgan Morality Act," stipulating that if a woman chose a fiancée over the objections of a former lover who had taken her virginity, her first lover was entitled to challenge her fiancée in a public debate, sort of like a cross between The Dating Game and The Jerry Springer Show. After hearing argumentation from both parties, the woman was free to choose her future mate. If the woman continued to rebuke the challenger, the law forbade him to contact her or to mention her name in public. This anti-stalking bill placed profound confidence in the power of debate in general, and argumentation in particular, to prevent corpses from piling up, as they evidently did in 1894 Nebraska, at least according to the record cited in Smart's play. In Act 1 of his delightful comedy, set in a contemporary Nebraska tavern - here portrayed in the site-specific environs of downtown's Metropol Cafe -- Smart is really grappling with the intersection of commitment and ownership. Jeff Galfer, who originated the role at New York's Slant Theatre Project, is both horrifying and endearing as Scott P. Scooner, a snazzily dressed local denizen whose dream of making it big consists of landing the assistant manager post at the suit shop where he now works as a sales clerk. Scott is a romantic extrovert with a history of suicide attempts over the loss of his love, Courtney (Amy Ellenberger, nicely capturing an emotional descent after floating on air) to a six-figure-salary-earning "dickwad from Sacramento" named James Alexander (Larry Heron, in a suave and smart performance). Courtney's been dating James for two months (compared to her five-year courtship with Scott). During the debate, James offers her a vacation in the Bahamas that only makes her swoon some more, as Scott must endure the site of his ex embracing and kissing his competitor while he's trying to win her back. Thomas (Feodor Chin) gently moderates the debate in a performance of wry intelligence and absurdity, clutching a handbook of the law that stipulates time limits and other protocol for the growingly ludicrous spectacle. After both suitors' presentations, Courtney finds herself paralyzed by indecision, which is when the law's more arcane articles, such as a corn-shucking competition, come into play. Act 2 flies back in time to 1894 and tracks the origins of this "morality act" via a farce with the actors in drag and impressive quick-changes. It's a different play in a different style that presents more of a challenge to the actors than the real-time naturalism of Act 1. It nonetheless tracks the origins of our so-called freedom, and how incapable we are of handing the responsibilities that come with it. Despite the shortcomings of the farce, Jennifer Chang stages the event, and it is an event, with a nimble touch, and Rachel Schachar's costumes are perfect. (SLM) Metropol Cafe, 923 East Third Street, downtown; Sun.-Mon., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 24. (800) 838-3006 or http://brownpapertickets.com A Chalk Repertory Theatre production.
DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD Bert V. Royal puts the Peanuts gang in high school dealing with sex, drugs, violence and homophobia. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (877) 620-7673.NEW REVIEW DON'T FORGET TO REMEMBER
The title of Patricia Parker's play is a line from a poem by Andrew Baker (Shelly Kurtz), written to remind himself to hold onto his memories as he faces the encroachment of Alzheimer 's disease. His life is made still harder by the fact that his wife Dolores (Trudy Forbes) is a rigid, conservative Catholic, with a knack for denying anything in life that might be upsetting. She turns against their daughter Sarah (Lisa Clifton) when she learns the girl is a lesbian, and when Sarah decides to marry her female lover, she attempts to drive her out of the house. Her denial goes into high gear when Andrew makes her promise to help him kill himself when he starts to seriously lose his faculties. Parker is an earnest and sincere writer, but her play prolongs the agony till it grows turgid and melodramatic, despite the fine efforts of a capable cast and Kiff Scholl's mostly excellent direction. (His handling of the scenes is fine, but the "expressionist" pantomime between scenes is more confusing than helpful.) Set designer Davis Campbell makes handsome and clever use of the small space. The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru September 6. (323) 960-7780 or www.Plays411.com/remember (Neal Weaver)
FERNANDO Art scholar versus curator, by Steven Charles Haworth. Part of Open Fist Theatre Company's First Look Festival of New Plays. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 15, 3 & 7 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE Weekly sketch comedy. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.NEW REVIEW GOLIATH During the Israeli pullout from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli soldiers, displaced settlers and incoming Palestinians could agree on one thing -- each claimed to be defending their people against a bully. Everyone is David, but no one cops to being Goliath, begging the question: Does Goliath exist, and if so, would he recognize himself? In this heavy-handed parable, we have Gittel (Laura Flanangan) and her teenage son David (Wyatt Fenner), whom she conceived in Manhattan and raised Jewish Orthodox in the Gaza Strip in an effort to distance themselves from her own misspent youth. Gittel raises tulips, a metaphor of desert life that escapes no one. Her flower business is so lucrative, she's made quasi-legal arrangements to leave it to her Palestinian employee Ayat (Anna Khaja) in the face of the Israeli government's decision to relocate Jewish settlements away from Gaza. David has all the usual acting-out issues plus a savior complex, bloodlust, and an excitement that the pending eviction of his family will give him cause to start an uprising. His closest enemies are the Israeli soldiers in charge of relocation, Yair (Richard Knolla) and Michal (Ayana Hampton), even though they're trying to position themselves as his friends. They even brought a pet carrier for his dog (though the creature died months ago). Karen Hartman's play is meant to be fair to all sides, and it often is, but young David is so increasingly psychotic that we lose tolerance for him being treated with tolerance; the audience is far more hostile to his cause than are the characters in the play - even Yair when David threatens the Israeli soldier with castration. Under Marya Mazor's direction, the play feels fundamentally disconnected from reality. These five characters are so devoted to their arguments -- all phrased in identical mock-Biblical poetics -- that they're slow to react to dramas happening five feet away. The inadvertent but oddly appropriate result is the depiction of an inert myopia that suffocates the kind of reason and mediation that might lead to actual progress. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Sat., Aug. 8, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 9, 3 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 16, 3 p.m.. (323) 882-6912. (Amy Nicholson)
GROUNDLINGS SPACE CAMP All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. No barfing allowed. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 934-9700.NEW REVIEW GO A HATFUL OF RAIN
Directed by Dean Kreyling in a lively revival, Michael Gazzo's play centers on the issue of morphine addiction. Johnny (a ghostly Chris Devlin) is a returning Korean War vet who got hooked while hospitalized. (The play is double-cast). He's been successfully hiding his addiction from his wife Celia (Tania Gonzalez) and from his father (Joseph Cardinale) -- but not from his brother Polo (Gad Erel), who's paid off his dealers before. This time Johnny is in debt $800. His dealers drop by with an ultimatum: pay the money or wind up in the hospital. Jonesing for his next fix, Johnny takes a gun in search of the money, staying out all night to no avail. When the hoods arrive the next day, Polo agrees to sell his car to cover Johnny's debt. But who will bail Johnny out the next time? The drug dealers are a colorful, menacing crew: Mother (Jeremy Radin), Apples (James Lyons) and Church (Aaron Leddick). Radin engages in some very funny stage business, and while he may steal some scenes, it's Erel who nearly walks away with the entire production. This actor exudes chrarisma and raw sexuality. Cardinale puts in a nuanced turn as the vitriolic patriarch. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23, www.katselastheatre.org. (310) 358-9936. A Katselas Theatre Company production (Sandra Ross)
GO HELLZ KITCHEN ABLAZE Tommy Carter's hard-hitting drama delves into the sadly familiar terrain of police brutality and corruption. After a drug raid in which a team member was shot and killed, a clique of New York City's finest rendezvous in an abandoned, graffiti pocked warehouse, ostensibly to commiserate about their dead partner. Robert Mangiardi, Michael Camacho, Sal Landi, Phil Parolisi, Charles Taylor and Gary Werntz turn in harrowing performances as gritty, street wise narcotics officers whose psychological and emotional black holes are nothing short of terrifying. It isn't long after the team assembles that the real reason for the "party" emerges, and we learn that a bond has been made to split nearly a million dollars in confiscated drug money, which is to be retrieved by this gang in blue's only black member, Dash (Tim Starks). It's while waiting for the payoff to arrive that a toxic stew of racism, fear, suspicion, paranoia and undiluted greed start to erode alliances causing insurmountable conflicts that culminate in crushing betrayals and murder. In addition to chillingly realistic characters, Carter's blunt writing and gallows humor propel this 90-minute drama, which in spite of its dearth of action is never boring or tedious. And director Barry Sattels and his cast excel in opening up the explosive tension of the plot. (LE3) Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave. L.A.; Thur.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (213) 712-5021.
THE HIGH Teen-drama parody, "from OMG to LOL.". ComedySportz, 733 Seward St., L.A.; Fri., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 871-1193.
GO KILL ME DEADLY Few literary figures seem as blatantly ripe for satire as the gumshoe detective. Playwright Bill Robens ably answers the call, with an entertaining spoof about an obtuse private dick named Charlie Nichols (Dean Lemont) and his obsession for a witless scarlet-clad siren named Mona (Kirsten Vangsness). Called in to forestall the murder of a wealthy dowager, Lady Clairmont (the comically skillful Kathleen Mary Carthy), he's soon embroiled with the usual parade of tough-guy gangsters, dumb cops and seductive debutantes. Obstacles confront Charlie everywhere ― his client soon ends up dead ― but none prove as treacherous as his buxom, doe-eyed lady love, whose predilection for homicide he myopically ignores. Savvily staged by director Kiff Scholl (with fight choreography by Caleb Terray and videography by Darrett Sanders), the script successfully parodies the genre's multiple clichés and evocative parlance, even as it lacks the razor-sharp edge of a top-notch farce. (The show goes on a bit too long.) Still the adroit supporting ensemble makes the most of the piece's convoluted subplots ― among them Nicholas S. Williams as Lady Clairmont's effete son Clive, Phinneas Kiyomura as an eyewitness to her murder and Ezra Buzzington as her suspiciously implicated butler. As the hero, Lemont demonstrates facileness. With her pouty lips and batting eyelids, Vangsness' outrageous Mona becomes the show's star. (DK) Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Aug 30. (323) 856-8611.
GO THE NUCLEAR FAMILY As they've been doing since 2007, the company of three actors (Stephen Guarino, Jimmy Ray Bennett and John Gregorio), and pianist Matthew Loren Cohen, staggered through on wit and a prayer to create a 90-minute musical theater piece off-the-cuff, sprung from the core characters of a generic American family: Mom, Dad and Daughter (some nights it's Son). The piece and even the characters' names are different every night, thanks to the unpredictability of audience suggestions, and the trio play different roles at each performance. Every show, however, starts in the "kitchen" - four wooden chairs, two with broken cross-beams - and spirals in and out of control from there, spinning the dual mythologies of The American Family and The American Musical around and around on a spit. It's ribald, insane, and great fun. (SLM) Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sun. 8 p.m.; through August 9. http://needtheater.org A NeedTheatre production
OCTOMOM! THE MUSICAL Chicago has gritty realism. New York has
Broadway musicals. So what's the L.A. aesthetic? I've heard complaints
- I think they were sneers - that L.A. has no unifying theater style,
just like it has no unifying geography. Not true: camp. You see more
parody of stupid movies, stupid TV shows and stupid people on the
stages of L.A. than any other genre - even more than one-person
showcases for TV. The latest example is this quite charming,
clever-in-parts (the eight kids are sock puppets) and terribly
over-hyped (preview coverage on Fox TV and in People Magazine) cabaret
about thoughtless and relentless greed, which is probably to our era
what religious hypocrisy was to Moliere's. Writer-director Chris
Votaire's theatrical comic book, with witty, light music by Rachel
Lawrence, interlinks the voracious appetites of Nadya Suleman (the
excellent Molly McCook) and Bernie Madoff (John Combs, also fine). It
suffers somewhat from the plight of trying to be on top of the news
with topics that were in the news cycle a few months ago. But the
underlying source of the satire that Voltaire is gunning for certainly
hasn't gone anywhere. The insights are broad as a barn. Madoff meets
that schemer Ponzi (Blake Hogue, with a keen expression of derangement
that works for number of cameos) in a sweet soft-shoe number. It could
be in the style of Tom Lehrer, but this is more obvious and less sly.
The production's strength lies in Dean McFlicker's musical staging, and
the actors' terrific movement skills - particularly that of Dinora
Walcott, the crooning emcee. Oh, but the thin voices bring it down. As
though this stuff is easy, as though a musical can be without the
triple threat of acting, dancing and singing. With the threadbare
canned accompaniment, we're missing about a third of the musical-comedy
trinity in those whispy voices, sometimes out of key. Not so for
McCook's Octomom, beautifully peevish, whining and with a sense of
entitlement as bloated as her belly. She carries the show, in tune and
on step, like a latter-day Mother Courage. (SLM) Fake Gallery, 4319
Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; through August 15.
GO ONE NIGHT STAND: AN IMPROVISED MUSICAL Seven young actors don't use wigs for a musical parody concoted in the spur of the moment - this is the improv equivalent of performing without a net. On the night I saw them, they brewed a father-son conflict that parodied the literary convention of young people arriving in L.A from the hinterlands to become stars. The lanky Quinn Beswick portrayed a kid in Tennessee confronting his dad (Jonah Platt) about not wanting to live out his father's failed dreams, about not wanting to be a star, but wanting instead to escape to L.A. to pursue his dream of cleaning up after other people who do want to be stars. (No shortage of employment opportunities in that field.) The fresh-scrubbed ensemble showed wit aplenty and boasted bone fide musical theater chops, particularly though the sharp energy and even sharper voices of Samantha Martin and Mollie Taxe. Musical Director Andrew Resnick did piano-accompaniment duties. (SLM) Hudson Theater Guild, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; through August 22. (323) 960-4429.
Samantha (Kellita Smith), the pivotal character in playwright Alretha Thomas' soap operatic fantasy, is the envy of her neighbor Belinda (Sharon Munfus). Sam's preacher husband (understudy Keith Bossier) is good-looking, ardent, and prosperous. Their three kids are dutiful and loving. A happy homemaker, Samantha loves cleaning and cooking for her family; as a pillar of the community she's also on track to receive the coveted First Lady award from their church. Disaster looms, however, when a hoodlum named Melvin (Billy Mayo) shows up, threatening to expose the crack-sodden errors of her youth. Under Denise Dowse's direction, Act 1's simplistic plotlines turn uncomfortably florid in Act 2, as the knavish Melvin resorts to violence, aggressive sexual embraces (which she spurns) and loaded weapons. The story's far-fetched elements are accentuated further by Smith's coy and honeyed manner, and camera-ready poise, somehow at odds with the modest stay-at-home mom she's supposed to represent. Some of her attire (from costume designer Mylette Nora) seems inappropriate: revealing necklines and high-heeled fuck-me footwear worn when at home with family and friends, and a clingy come-hither dress purchased for the church award ceremony that seems more suitable for a racy disco. The over-the-top Esther Scott milks the role of Samantha's cantankerous mother-in-law for laugh -- and gets them. Mayo is definitively intimidating while Munfus - playing a great girlfriend but a shrewish wife -- is on target as both. Designer Marco De Leon has fashioned an attractive set. Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (Deborah Klugman)
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.NEW REVIEW SAY GOODBYE TOTO
Sometimes it just doesn't pay to tinker with a literary classic. Such is the case with Amy Heidish's reimagining of the Wizard of Oz. Heidish places Toto at the center of the narrative, and this dubious conceit wears thin early on. Joseph Porter does the honors as Dorothy's panting, barking traveling companion, and after the pair is transported via tornado to Oz, the canine is inexplicably mistaken for a sorcerer. Accompanying Dorothy (the fine Renee Scott) on her way to the Emerald City is a mysterious cat (Tracy Ellott), plus of course the Scarecrow (Mike Fallon), the cowardly lion (Andreas Ramacho), and Tin Man (Grant Mahnken) who, in Heidish's version, are all cursed brothers hoping that face time with the wizard can get them zapped back into human form. The most engaging moments come by way of the Wizard (Jake Elsas), whose magical manipulation of several hand puppets behind a screen is very funny. Alice Ensor does a dazzling job as the good witch, but this doesn't redeem a script with a tension that dribbles away. And Jamie Virostko's bland direction doesn't help. The Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd.; L.A., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m., thru Sept. 13. (323) 969-1707. An Ark Theatre Company production (Lovell Estell III)
GO SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK LIVE! TOO The original School House Rock was a long-running kids' TV show that winningly combined cartoon characters and songs with a high educational content. Here director-choreographer Rick Sparks assembles six terrific, high-energy performers -- Harley Jay, Tricia Kelly, Jayme Lake, Michael "Milo" Lopez, Lisa Tharps and Brian Wesley Turner -- to employ all their skill and pizzazz on songs about numbers, multiplication, parts of speech, American history, government, the bones of the body, financial interest rates, and a score of other useful topics, all turned into lively entertainment. (A math song about multiplying is called "Naughty Number Nine," and the American Revolution is served up in "No More Kings.") There's a scrap of plot, about saving a financially failing diner, but that's the merest of pretexts. Cody Gillette provides crisp musical direction and leads the trio (with Anthony Zenteno, on guitars, and Eric Tatuaca on drums) to provide infectious, hard-driving accompaniments on Adam Flemming's handsome diner set. Clever costumes are by Kat Marquet, and Daavid Hawkins provides hundreds of zany props. If you already know that 7 x 9 = 63, you might feel, as I did, that 20 songs is a few too many, but the kids seem to love it. Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, L.A.; call for schedule; through August 9. (323) 655-7679, ext. 100, or www.schoolhouserockla.com.
GO SEARCH AND DESTROY Howard Korder's play begins like a mildly absurdist comedy about a feckless, dunderhead Florida ice-show promoter, Martin Merkheim (Brian Ridings), who owes $47,000 in back taxes. When he becomes obsessed with late-night TV self-help guru Dr. Waxling (Joseph Dunn), he decides he must make a movie of the doctor's novel, Daniel Strong, as part of his self-empowerment campaign. But the doctor (who has marketing problems) is unimpressed by Martin's high ideals and wants cold, hard cash. And the play turns darker. In his pursuit of money, Martin becomes involved with a receptionist (Meagan English) who wants to write gory horror flicks, a shady businessman (Adam Hunter Howard), a couple of drug dealers (Dan Fishbach and Anthony Duran), and a strung-out coke head (Thom Guillou), who is political consultant to a conservative senator. The pursuit of self-improvement leads only to sleaziness, corruption and self-destruction. Korder's script ricochets between picaresque comedy, morality play, melodrama and a play of ideas; it's fun to watch, and director Joshua Adler has assembled a terrific cast. Ridings makes Martin's bumbling desperation believable, Fishbach and Guillou contribute sharp comic vignettes, while Howard and Dunn lend a more sinister touch. (NW) The Complex, Ruby Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (323) 960-7776.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES ... LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 7 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 27. (310) 226-6148.
SNOOPY!!! THE MUSICAL Larry Grossman and Hal Hacakady's sequel to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (323) 667-0955.
STOP KISS Manhattan traffic newscaster Callie (Deborah Puette) meets
Sara (Kristina Harrison) the week the young blonde schoolteacher
arrives in the city. Both have always identified themselves as
straight: Callie's got her friend-with-benefits George (Christan
Anderson), who she assumes she'll marry once they both stop trying to
find someone better, and Sara has just left her boyfriend of seven
years, Peter (Justin Okin), behind in St. Louis in her quest to find a
bigger, harder, more worthwhile life. The two women gradually become
best friends, deliciously tormented by their quiet hints that they both
want a more physical relationship. But no sooner do they stick a
tentative foot out of the closet than they're pushed out in the worst
possible way -- as a news story about a violent bigot who puts Sara in
a coma. Diana Son's time-jumping play about coping with the unexpected
skips from their first meeting to Callie's first sitdown with the
investigating cop (Jeorge Watson); we're rooting for the couple to get
together under the shadow of the consequences. But Son's equal emphasis
on romance makes the play looser and more inviting than a social
problem drama, and the question isn't about the source of hate, but the
depth of Callie's love when Peter announces that Sara's family wants to
move her hospital bed back to Missouri. Under Elina de Santos and
Matthew Elkin's direction, the ensemble opening night was still a
little stiff, but Puette's tender performance captures a haphazard
woman realizing that she's finally sure of at least one thing.
Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7
p.m.; thru July 26, www.roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-7774. A
Rogue Machine production (Amy Nicholson)
SUNDAY OF THE DEAD All-new sketch and improv by the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
TERMINUS AMERICANA Matt Pelfrey's weird, hot mess of a dark satire is a virtual dramatization of lunacy, as seen from the inside peering out. If you have ever noticed someone walking down the street, with a tinfoil hat firmly lodged atop his head, muttering imprecations about this or that conspiracy, Pelfrey's play is a work that tells you how that tragic figure came to be. Mac Winchell (Brett Hren) is a contented cubicle-dwelling office worker whose life is thrown into disarray when co-worker Felix (Eric Bunton) goes berserk and starts shooting up the building. Felix offs himself right in front of Mac, but before he does, he whispers something unmentionable in his ear. From that moment, Mac finds himself sliding into a bizarre, alternate universe in which everything is deranged and violent. After inheriting the Terminus Americana, a phone book-size manual of madness left by Felix as an office Secret Santa gift, Mac wanders the country, having a bizarre series of adventures and ultimately being hailed as a prophet in the New Church of Christ The Office Shooter -- and you can imagine what one must do to join that organization. Pelfrey's comedy is intentionally meandering, full of seemingly random incidents and a disjointed structure that is meant to be both frustrating and arch. Unfortunately, a little goes a long way, and two hours of the disconnected babble almost leaves the audience groping for our own tinfoil hats. Danny Parker-Lopes' phlegmatic staging suffers from lagging pacing and strangely clumsy blocking. Although Hren's slow transition from mild-mannered office drone to howling loon is chillingly convincing, some of the supporting performances are prone to stiff acting and halting line readings. (Paul Birchall). Elephant Stageworks, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (323) 860-8786.
THE TOMORROW SHOW Late-night variety show created by Craig Anton, Ron Lynch and Brendon Small. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Sat., midnight. (323) 960-7785.NEW REVIEW GO TREEFALL The most primal aspects of erotic attraction, and the dynamics of competition among siblings and parents, and even the foundations of civilization itself, play themselves out in Henry Murray's post-apocalyptic drama, set on and around a mountain that's being scorched by a global warming sun, as modern civilization lies in ruins. Four characters (West Liang, Brian Norris, Brian Pugach and Tania Verafield) play-act through the detritus of the world as they try to fathom the purpose of continuing, and the meaning of being human. The play is utterly despondent and achingly true, without a hint of morbidity, and even glimpses of humor, under John Perin Flynn's studied direction. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through September 6. (323) 960-7774. A Rogue Machine production (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
WWJD ... WHAT WOULD JIMI DO? The Racket Collective presents Felicia D. Henderson's story of her relationships with her dysfunctional family, Hollywood agents and Jimi Hendrix. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 31, www.the-racket-collective.ticketleap.com...
YA GOTTA GO HIGHER One-man show on addiction and recovery by comedian Yul Spencer. East Theatre at the Complex, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 9, www.yagottagohigher.com...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
THE APPLE TREE In a series of three one-act musicals by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the duo who brought us Fiddler on the Roof), this 1966 piece thematically explores whether getting what you want leads to wanting what you get. However, unlike the original Broadway version, this production features three (mostly) separate casts and directors. The opener, "The Diary of Adam and Eve," a wry take on the familiar Biblical tale adapted from the Mark Twain story, is followed by "The Lady or the Tiger?," from Frank R. Stockton's story of a king's barbaric system of justice, and finally by"Passionella," a Cinderella-style story about a chimney sweep who dreams of being a movie star. In the first act, Gary Lamb's direction and choreography are unspectacular, and the energy of the piece, including the musical direction's pacing, is lacking. In the second, director William A. Reilly's pacing is similarly uneven, as is the level of camp required to sell the material, though Kit Paquin as Princess Barbara really sells "I've Got What You Want." The final act is the evening's highlight, as Matthew J. Williamson's direction features cleverly minimalist set pieces, unique staging, quick costume changes, and the right amount of shtick to bring the material to life. Stephanie Fredericks also shines as Ella/Passionella, with her strong vocals, comic flair and timing. (Mayank Keshaviah). Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (818) 745-8527.
BILLIE & BOGIE Billie Holiday and Humphrey Bogart had enough superficiality in common to make them an apt pair for a show about the psyche of two hard-drinking, hard-living New Yorkers. They became icons while still feeling they had something to prove -- Holiday to the bigoted, and Bogart to audiences who underestimated and then overestimated his acting ability. This is a fine show, but it isn't the show I've just described. Instead, director Bryan Rasmussen presents Bogie (Dan Spector) and Lady Day (Synthia L. Hardy) as legends gracing us with a few dark anecdotes about their roots. Spector and Hardy are sincere in their affections for these imposing pop figures, but there's a whiff of Wikipedia to their character profiles -- their monologues are arranged chronologically, not thematically, chugging along at the highs and lows of lives about to be cut short while guzzling (but not feeling) enough booze to tranquilize a tiger. With a running time of nearly three hours, by the end, we should know Bogie and Billie better than we do. Instead we walk about with the warm melancholy of sharing a drink with a fascinating stranger we'll never meet again. (Amy Nicholson). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 990-2324.
CARAPACE ISLE Jon Courie's story of lesbian's return to her dysfunctional North Carolina home. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16, www.collaborativeartistsensemble.com. (323) 860-6569.
GO EQUUS Director-set designer August Viverito and his colleagues have mastered the art of clarity and intensity when working in a tiny space such as this. Peter Shaffer's drama has always told the harrowing tale of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna), who must discover why a severely troubled teenager, Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), has gouged out the eyes of six horses with a hoof pick. What's different here is that Hanna's Dysart suffers an anguish at least as deep as the boy's, and this carries the play from clever melodrama into the realm of tragedy. Dysart slowly realizes that Alan has evolved his own bizarre religion, in which horses are his gods ― and has enacted a strange Passion Play. The doctor understands that to cure the boy, he must take from him the richest and most profound experience of his life. The boy's fierce passion forces Dysart to recognize the barrenness and aridity of his own existence. Viverito has cast it beautifully, with riveting performances by Hanna, Stafford and a splendid supporting cast, who make us feel the play, as well as understand it. The Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; selected Sundays, 3 p.m.; through Sept. 5. (800) 838-3006, or www.theprodco.com. (Neal Weaver)
GOD BOX Ana Guigui's "musical dramedy" has moments of brilliance but
suffers from a lack of coherence and an awkward format. The play is set
in a local hotel lounge where she Guigui - the daughter of Aregentinian
Jews -- plays piano, she recounts her life as the daughter of a
peregrinating symphony conductor, life in New York, and a warm but
often testy relationship with her parents and brother. Initially, the
material is compelling and often humorous, so much so, that you want to
hear more of it. But the real focus of the play is her frustrating
search for romance and a soul mate, whose qualities are written down
and kept in her "God box." Accounts of a furtive childhood kiss, a
first love and sexual outing, the pain of an abortion, and a romantic
hookup with a salesman, unfurl in a facile, patchwork that is often
difficult to follow and not particularly interesting. Guigui is
delightful channeling characters, with the singular exception of a
black rapper she encountered, which hovers perilously close to crude
caricature. But the woman can play the hell out of the piano, and sings
like an angel, with a diverse repertoire that even includes a haunting
rendition of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Robert Barker Lyon
directs. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood;
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. August 2 perf at 1 p.m.), thru Aug. 16.
323-960-5770. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE HOSTAGE In 1959 Dublin, a young British soldier is held captive by the Irish Republican Army while an equally young IRA volunteer awaits execution for killing a policeman. Should the British carry out the Irishman's sentence, the IRA will do the same to the Englishman. Playwright Brendan Behan, himself a former IRA member, took this dire premise and molded a sly political satire that reveals on both sides of the Anglo-Irish conflict, there is plenty of guilt and hypocrisy, which tend to be drowned in swigs of Guinness or shots of Jameson. Pat (John McKenna) is an ex-IRA soldier who with his "wife" Meg (Jenn Pennington) runs the establishment whose denizens include assorted whores (male and female), a daft ex-IRA leader (Barry Lynch) and other sundry lumpenproletariat. When a steely IRA officer (Mark Colson) hides a British conscript (Patrick Joseph Rieger) in the house, tensions and hilarity ensue, as assorted characters begin to question the rationale for the soldier's fate, especially a young girl (Amanda Deibert), who falls for him. Director McKerrin Kelly and company have culled text from the original Irish version and the subsequent English one to craft a boisterous production filled with songs and jigs, characters chatting with the audience and a provocative finale. (MH) The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 16. (818) 846-5323.
INSANITY In this unexpectedly inert musical from James J. Mellon, Scott DeTurk, and Larry Russo, Zarek Saxton (Kevin Bailey) is a B-movie director who, midway through filming his latest slasher flick, drops a designer drug, sees visions, and decides to make a totally different movie ― one he hopes will cure war, feed children and save the world. In other words, he wants to make a movie that will go direct to video. Perhaps understandably, producer Ramsey (a nicely oily Bob Morrissey) decides to commit the director to a mental hospital, and tries to bribe top shrink Megan (Dana Meller) to certify him as nuts so she he can toss Zarek off the movie. While he's in the bin, Zarek casts a darkly ironic outsider's eye on the various emotional problems of the inmates ― a collection of damaged souls whom he comes to admire. The play's shift in tone from sassy Hollywood spoof to a mawkish recycle of One Flew Over The Cockoo's Nest is awkward and strangely uninvolving ― and the play's central relationship, between the arrogantly self-important Zarek and the smirking, humorless Megan, thuds. Strangely enough, the relationship between DeTurk's unmemorable, smooth jazz score and Mellon's overly complicated lyrics is not much better, although Bailey's comical rendition of "You Couldn't Write This Shit," in which his character ridicules his fellow patients behind their backs, has some toe-tapping potential. In a supporting role as an actor with emotional problems, Brad Blaisdell's character shows some depth, while Sabrina Miller, as the director's self-absorbed leading lady and girlfriend, conveys the Hollywood mood believably. The rest is a comparatively dull opus that hasn't yet gelled. (PB) Noho Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 9. (818) 508-7107, ext. 7.
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Audience members interact with infamous or celebrated personages from the 20th century, as re-created in a series of monologues. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111.
NEW REVIEW LOVE, SEX, VIOLENCE, ETC.
Photo courtesy of Whitefire Theatre
Playwright Helena Weltman's six playlets might best be described as sketch dramedy. These character-driven slices of life boast a penchant for ironic twists, but provide little of the of the titillation that the title suggests. The outing begins auspiciously with "Saturday Night Date," in which a barroom pickup between two strangers (in fascinating portrayals by Lizze Czerner and Danny Grossman) turns into an intriguingly dangerous battle of wits, before a disappointing ending that sound like an old joke. The second offering, "Sitting in a Tree" provides a great opportunity for an actor to play appealingly crazy - Stephanie R. Keefer fulfills this mission as a woman desperate for a child. "Date" is directed with terse humor by Daniel Cerny, and "Tree" with emotional abandon by his father Pavel Cerny. Both directors successfully draw the audience into each work's disparate styles. The next four plays, however, lack the textual depth and the acting skills to match the first two. A great deal of sexual innuendo and crossed-wire communication cause human complication, but not a real sense of dramatic tension. Production values throughout are extremely simple, with only a few props and set pieces to define the worlds. Oscar Schwartz's costumes, though, are a bit more intricate and help tell the various stories. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 30. (866) 811-4111. (Tom Provenzano)
THE PAIN AND THE ITCH Judging by this 2004 comedy of manners, Steppenwolf playwright Bruce Norris' worst enemy isn't the left-leaning, urban-professional parenting he targets in his caustic, social satire, but his own penchant for overloaded metaphors and excessively convoluted plots. The action centers on a fateful Thanksgiving gathering hosted by Kelly (Vonessa Martin), a young attorney, and her stay-at-home husband, Clay (Brad Price), as told in flashback to a mysterious, Arab cab driver, Mr. Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur). Kelly and Clay seem to be living the American dream with success, wealth (suggested by Kurt Boetcher's distractingly literal, luxury townhouse set) and two young children. With the arrival of Clay's acid-tongued, plastic-surgeon brother, Cash (Scott Lowell), and his malaprop-spouting, Slavic-immigrant girlfriend, Kalina (Katie Marie Davies), however, a host of simmering tensions and festering family resentments quickly surface, not the least of which concerns Clay's growing alarm at the suspicious genital rash afflicting his overprotected, four-year-old daughter, Kayla (Ava Feldman in a role double cast with Olivia Aaron). Norris is at his best when skewering the culture of narcissism that blinds his Yuppie protagonists to the grimmer truths of the world around them (as when Kelly's claim of childhood abuse by "neglect alternating with sarcasm" prompts naive comfort from Kalina in her own story of her brutal, childhood rape by soldiers). But Dámaso Rodriguez's crisp direction of a talented cast can't mitigate the tangle of telescoping flashbacks, red herrings and a wildly improbable and bathetic dénouement that all ultimately blunt Norris' critiques. (BR) Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (626) 683-6883.
RAY BRADBURY'S YESTERMORROWS The sci-fi author's short stories "The
Meadow," "Cistern" and "A Device Out of Time," adapted for the stage.
Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8
p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323)
7DS Zombie Joe's Underground presents Amanda Marquardt's survey of the seven deadly sins. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 202-4120.
74 GEORGIA AVENUE/THE PUSHCART PEDDLERS Murray Schisgal's two mildly absurdist one-acts chronicle varied aspects of Jewish life. In the good-hearted but conventional farce The Pushcart Peddlers, directed by Chris Winfield, and set on the New York Waterfront in the early 1900s, wily banana peddler Cornelius (Lloyd Pedersen) cons greenhorn Shimmel (Ren Bell) out of all he owns --but Shimmel falls for Maggie (Melissa Soso), a flower-seller with theatrical ambitions, he quickly learns street smarts. The performances are broad but skillful. The more ambitious and more personal 74 Georgia Avenue, directed by Frances Mizrahi, is set in a formerly Jewish neighborhood that's now entirely black. Martin Robbins (Larry Margo) revisits his childhood home and discovers it's occupied by Joseph Watson (Disraeli Ellison), the son of the janitor at Robbins' old synagogue, who has become more Jewish than Robbins. Joseph fondly remembers the old days from the synagogue and has collected clothes, which mysteriously allow him to assume the identities of their former owners. When he "becomes" Martin's zayda, it allows Martin to resolve old resentments, and regain respect for his nebbishy father. Both actors deliver fine performances, despite the play's heavy-handed treatment of the supernatural. (NW) Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., thru Aug. 22. http://www.lcgrt.com or (866) 811-4111.
THE UNSEEN In some unspecified country, two prisoners, Valdez (Matt Kirkwood) and Wallace (Darin Singleton) have been held for years in isolation cells. They are close enough to talk to but not to see each other. They don't know why they have been incarcerated, or by whom. They are constantly questioned and tortured, and subjected to nerve-shattering noises. They spend their days carrying out private rituals, and playing word and memory games in an attempt to preserve their sanity. The only mortal they see is the guard Smash (Douglas Dickerman), who is both torturer and caretaker. Craig Wright's allegorical new play keeps its larger meaning sketchy, perhaps because it lacks a concrete context. It's interesting mainly for the interaction of the two men, and the strange and whimsical nature of Smash. Wright directs his play skillfully on Desma Murphy's handsomely bleak set. Kirkwood and Singleton provide richly detailed portraits of the two men who comfort themselves with escape fantasies, and Dickerman creates a bizarre figure as the guard who hates his charges because he can't help feeling their pain as he tortures them. (NW) The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through August 22. (866) 811-4111 or www.roadtheatre.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
AESOP'S FABLES As re-imagined by the Kentwood Players' Shirley Hatton. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Sat., 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 15, www.kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.
AUNT FONDEEN AND THE LOST DUTCHMAN GOLDMINE Free performances, courtesy Culver City Public Theatre. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., noon.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 712-5482.
BACH AT LEIPZIG With a few notes of sardonic humor, Itamar Moses' sketch about would-be musical stars of the 18th century, who ultimately fade into the shadows of Johann Sebastian Bach, aims for for erudition but too often lands in tediousness. Four composers named Georg and three Johanns vie for the post as Leipzig's organ master, a position that would guarantee the winner the power to shape the musical, cultural (and, it seems political) fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire -- at least the valuable German parts. Intrigues, reality show-style alliances and betrayals abound as the composers plot and prepare for an all-important audition. Between connivances they spout literate, self-conscious oratory covering the artistic soul in and out of relation to the growing feud between Lutheranism and Calvinism. An interesting descent into farce is undercut by the author's too-precious self-comparison to Molière. Director Darin Anthony serves up almost balletic choreography, with some success. The best moments, though, come from Rob Nagle's powerhouse performance as the only thoughtful character, and from Henry Clarke, who perfectly balances swagger and foppishness as a womanizing nobleman. The production is visually stunning, through an array of exquisite period costumes and wigs designed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. (TP) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055.
CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL South Park's Trey Parker penned this man-eating musical. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, www.thegaragetheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.NEW REVIEW THE CHAIRS
Eugene Ionesco's 1952 post-apocalyptic comi-tragedy premiered the same year as Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot - another post-apocalyptic comi-tragedy that defined the Theater of the Absurd, a literary movement trying to respond to the inexplicable nihilism of the Holocaust, and of the detonations of the atomic bombs that ended, or perhaps cemented the end, of World War II. Godot's literary images are perfect - a pair of clowns in a barren land waiting for something that might provide some direction, or purpose, while habitually playing out ludicrous daily rituals as time passes, and passes them by. Less so, The Chairs, which is comparatively dense, alluding to the intersection of useless language with a world vacant of intrinsic meaning or purpose. The occupants of The Chairs are also ancient clowns, Wife (Cynthia Mance) and Husband (Bo Roberts) occupying an otherwise abandoned island after Paris, the City of Light, is a mere memory. Husband, a lord of the mop and bucket, keeps boasting of his satisfaction with life, though Wife reminds him constantly of what he could have been. His final act is to be a speech, a performance, a message for future generations that will explain the meaning of existence. And for this performance the pair gathers chairs into their room, a makeshift stage, so that the chairs echo the chairs of the theater directly behind them. Guests are arriving, military men and belles they seduce, and even the emperor. We hear fog horns of arriving boats and the excitement builds, a mob entirely created in the minds of Husand and Wife. For us, the chairs are empty. The are filled only by the persuasiveness of the actors to stir our imagination. And this is the emptiness, filled only by a willful act of imagination, that lies in the cavernous hollow of Ionesco's philosophy. Garth Whitten turns in a fine, fleeting appearance as the Orator, hired by Husband to deliver his message, because Husband is too afraid to speak for himself. Frederique Michel stages, as usual, a physically beautiful spectacle with Charles Duncombe's production design. The production takes flight in moments when the old couple swirls into a ballet of collecting chairs. It works best when it's a dance. The language however, or Donald Allen's English translation of it, is beyond the actors, who have both proved so capable in other productions here. Michel and her actors haven't yet found a dynamic musicality that can lift Husband's private agony beyond the redundant blasts of a tuba, or Wife's maternal taunting beyond the peeping of a piccolo. When Husband speaks his beautiful lament, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?", it's in the same harried tone as his later confession about abandoning his dying mother. Even a play about emptiness needs rises and falls - especially a play about emptiness. The challenge is how to fill the void. City Garage, 1340½ Fourth Street (alley), Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; through September 13. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris) See Theater feature.
CINDERELLA THE MUSICAL I attended writer-director Chris De Carlo & Evelyn Rudie's musical adaptation of the timeless fairy tale with my 9-year-old niece, Rachel. We found ourselves joined by a birthday party of kids who appeared to be around 6, though there was a smattering of infants and adults. These kids were obviously smitten with the broad comedic antics of the stepsisters (Celeste Akiki and Billie Dawn Greenblatt) and their mom (Serena Dolinksy, doubling, in a rare, high-concept moment of intended irony, as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother). The actors' goggle-eyed expressions and broad-as-a-barn reactions generated screams of laughter from the kids, who were also riveted by the songs (ranging in style from pop ballads to Gilbert and Sullivan parodies). This production has been chugging on and off for 25 years now. Actor John Waroff has dedicated a quarter century of his adult life strutting the boards as King Isgood, so points scored for perseverance, which is more than can be said for Rachel, who promised to write this review and then left it to me. Can't not mention Ashley Hayes' lush costumes, nor the tinny sound design that left the singers marooned. Rachel said she really liked the stepsisters and Cinderella (Melissa Gentry) but wished somebody had been more cruel, as in the story. Everybody here was just so nice, and Rachel was aching for something meaner or weirder. I concur. Rachel also said some unkind things about some of the performances, but if she wants those aired, she can write a review herself. (SLM) Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., noon & 3 p.m.; indef. (310) 394-9779.
CRACK WHORE BULIMIC, GIRL-NEXT-DOOR Marnie Olson's 1980s coming-of-age story. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 535-6007.
GO CYMBELINE THE PUPPET KING Shakespeare's Cymbeline is a natural for adaptation as children's theater since it shares many plot elements of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The play has been much shortened and simplified. Imogen's husband, Posthumous, and his treacherous friend Iachimo have been eliminated, and the sex and violence are reduced to minimum in slapstick. In this goofy, kid-friendly adaptation by Angelina Berliner, King Cymbeline (Stephen M. Porter) is an ineffectual booby, easily manipulated by his evil, ambitious second wife (Donna Jo Thorndale), who wants to marry off her boorish, dimwitted son Cloten (Adam Jefferis) to his daughter Imogen (Erin Anderson). But feisty Imogen (she calls her unwelcome suitor Cloten the Rotten) is having none of this, and takes to the woods, where she's befriended by Belarius (Mary Eileen O'Donnell) and his adopted son Guidarius (Kirstin Hinton), who was raised by wolves, and is given to occasional howling. Many of the jokes are probably over the heads of most children, but they're kept amused by director Will Pellegrini's zanily frenetic staging, and the prospect of free Popsicles. The short piece (less than an hour) is performed outdoors, and best of all, admission is free. (Neal Weaver). Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Aug. 30, www.theactorsgang.com. (310) 838-4264.
NEW REVIEW GO FRANZ SCHUBERT: HIS LETTERS AND
MUSIC Director Peter Medak's production offers the rare and frankly
unmissable opportunity to hear and see Julia Migenes, one of the great
operatic divas of our day, gloriously assay lieder by the 19th century
composer Franz Schubert -- all in an intimate 99-seat theater. The
piece is essentially a concert, reminiscent in style of the great
recitals by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with meager context provided by
performer Jeff Marlow's amiable rendition of selected letters by
Schubert. Yet this doesn't seem to matter much when Migenes's
incredible soprano fills the theater. The show, which Migenes
conceived with Phillipe Calvario, consists of a broad stroke biography
of Schubert, the wunderkind composer (and protégé of Antonio Salieri,
though that's not much to brag about these days) whose prodigious
output of hundreds of songs and operas was cut short by his death from
syphilis complications in 1828. Marlow's turn as Schubert presents a
youthful, perhaps manic depressive rake, who's understandably driven by
his passions - his rage over not achieving the career goals of being a
professional musician is offset by his devotion and love for his art.
Throughout his rendition of Schubert's letters, Marlow is shadowed by
Migenes, as a sort of angelic muse, echoing the passions and thoughts
of the composer through his songs. A moment in which Schubert
expresses despair and frustration is followed by Migenes's beautifully
simple rendition of Schubert's paeon of forgiveness, "Du Bist Die
Ruh." A moment of rage is followed by a thundering "Die Junge
Nonne." The showstopping finale consists of Migenes's chilling "Ave
Maria" - a gesture of benediction, sung as Schubert himself dies. The
play is frankly not for musical neophytes and it is best to do due
diligence on Schubert and his Lieder before coming to the theater - but
Migenes, assisted by pianist Victoria Kirsch's deceptively simple
accompaniment, offers a powerful and compelling theatrical experience.
Odyssey Theater, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd, West Los Angeles;
Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 23. (310) 477-2055. (Paul
DRIVE Kentwood Players presents Emily Dodi's latest play, about disillusioned women looking for answers. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 15, www.kentwoodplayers.org. (310) 645-5156.
GO HEAVY LIKE THE WEIGHT OF A FLAME While R. Ernie Silva's older brothers were doing hard drugs, he hid out in his room and watched Masterpiece Theater. Silva wasn't a nerd; he break-danced, liked weed, and grew dreadlocks. But he lived in Bushwick, and to cops, bosses and his mom, being a young, black male in Bushwick meant you were and would always be just like everyone else. Railroaded into a life headed for rehab or death, Silva grabbed a boxcar heading west to go on an American walkabout. Silva is a charismatic talent with slender build and wide grin. The story of his travels, co-written with James Gabriel and directed by Mary Joan Negro, taps into his charm and energy, sending him up and around a set of simple black boxes, strumming his guitar, Savannah, and impersonating the noteworthy, from Richard Pryor and Jimi Hendrix to August Wilson. The travails of young artists and their search for self-definition are a familiar solo show trope, but even the heightened moments ― the death of a brother, an auspicious visit from an eagle ― feel earned, not manufactured. I expect we'll see a lot more of Silva, and this very solid monologue is a good place to get acquainted. (AN) Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 8. (310) 477-2055.
GO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM In a forest of fairies, skater boy Lysander (a nicely slacker-y Rett Nadol) runs off with his sweet fiancée, Hermia (Rachel Emmers, whose Valley Girl-like accents add comedic luster). However, mischievous fairy Puck (Joey Pata) casts a spell on Lysander so he falls for Hermia's pal Helena (drolly neurotic Adeye Sahran). Meanwhile, fairy-queen Titania (Amanda Arbues) is enchanted into falling in love with a boorish Bottom (Kenneth De Abrew, playing the well-known character as an East Asian Oliver Hardy), who has been turned into a donkey for the day. Director Stephan Wolfert's charming staging of Shakespeare's romantic comedy fantasia is a co-production between the Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, the U.S. Veterans' Artists Alliance and Shakespeare Santa Monica. The show's ensemble is a mix of professional actors and military veterans ― and one or two of whom are both at the same time, since the vocations are not mutually exclusive. One might expect the presence of veterans to give the show a somehow therapeutic undercurrent, but, in fact, the show is just good comedy, boasting some polished clowning. If it weren't for the program bios, which mention the performer veterans' time served and military branch (alongside the usual list of turns in standards like Noises Off and Blithe Spirit) the idea that the briskly staged and thoroughly enjoyable show has a connection to the armed forces probably wouldn't occur to us. Staged in a makeshift theater space atop a musical band shell behind a West L.A. library, the show's delightfully daffy mood and intimacy combined with the picniclike atmosphere offer a laid-back, unpretentious spectacle that's perfect for summer ― and for Midsummer. While some performers may wrestle with the verse or fall prey to weak diction, the show's energy and innocently romantic comic timing craft a production that's hard to resist. (PB) West L.A. Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; through Aug. 9. Free.
MUTINY AT PORT CHICAGO ]During the American Revolution, George Washington opposed arming African-Americans, "lest they turn our weapons against ourselves." This attitude prevailed in the American military until after World War II. The Navy allowed black seaman to serve only as noncombatant cooks and day laborers, and at Port Chicago, near San Francisco, they were deployed as stevedores, loading volatile explosives onto transport ships. Neither white officers nor black workers received training in handling explosives, safety rules were ignored, workers were driven to meet dangerous, impossible quotas, and workers were told the ammo "couldn't possibly explode." But on July 17, 1944, it did explode, killing 320 men and injuring 390. Fifty black seamen, ably represented here by actors J. Teddy Garces, Eric Bivens-Bush, Pedro Coiscou and Durant Fowler, refused to return to ammo-loading duties under the same terrible conditions, and were falsely accused of conspiracy/mutiny. White officers fabricated evidence in a kangaroo court, where the attorney for the defense (the excellent Maury Sterling) was hamstrung at every turn. Because the issues were so completely black and white, playwright Paul Leaf can't avoid melodrama. His brief Act 1 is a setup for effective trial scenes in Act 2. An uneven production is graced with some solid performances. (NW) Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Aug. 15. (310) 397-3244.
GO ST. JOAN OF THE SLAUGHTERHOUSES For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets, one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it's hard to imagine doing Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying staging of the Marxist maestro's classic, anti-morality play, St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the 1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias' costumes), the story cleverly inverts the Jeanne d'Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark (a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an antipoverty crusader whose "Warriors of God" mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse closings. Joan's efforts to get the men back to work lead her to financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that Mauler is cynically using Joan's appeals to further his scheme. When she subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped mission, she is cast into the street, where she belatedly realizes the pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by Peter Mellencamp's vivid, new translation and an unerring ensemble (including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel Riordan), Rothhaar's production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the principles of epic theater. (It's also a showcase for the multitalented Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler's scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & Co. not only prove that the old, dialectical dogmatist still has teeth but that Brecht's bark and his bite are both wickedly entertaining. (BR) Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (310) 822-8392.
SIDE MAN Warren Leight's jazztastic memory play. (In the Studio Theater.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 9. (562) 494-1014.
SPECIAL THEATER EVENTS
007 CASINO AFFAIR Get gambling at this Son of Semele fund-raiser with non-cash casino gaming, raffles, drinks, hors d'oeuvres and a James Bond impersonation contest. Eagle Rock Center for the Arts, 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; Fri., Aug. 7, 7 p.m.. (323) 226-1617.
BOBRAUSHENBERGAMERICA Charles Mee's celebration of artist Bob Rauschenberg, benefiting Class Act Musical Children's Theatre. Class Act Musical Theatre, 5345 Wilhelmina Ave., Woodland Hills; opens Aug. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 16, www.theatricians.com. (818) 703-6364.
IN ARABIA WE'D ALL BE KINGS Alive Theatre presents Stephen Adly Guirgis' study of Times Square losers. ($25 gets you dinner, wine, live music, and a cast-and-crew meet-and-greet.). Nino's Restaurant, 3853 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Sat., Aug. 8, 7 p.m.. (562) 508-1788.
OJAI PLAYWRIGHTS CONFERENCE The 12th annual program features readings of new works by Stephen Belber, Bill Cain, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori. Matilija Junior High School Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Rd, Ojai; Aug. 11-16, www.ojaiplays.org. (805) 640-0400.
THEATRE WEST PLAY READING SERIES July 7: What Are Friends For? by Victoria Vidal; July 14: Moose on the Loose by Dina Morrone; July 21: There Is a Season by Doug Haverty; July 28: Abandon by Chris DiGiovanni; August 4: Grandma Good by Arden Teresa Lewis; August 11: Zeno's Parado by Wendy Graf. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 11. (323) 851-7977.