Stage Raw: Getting Intimate With Michael Kearns
STAGE FEATURE on Rachel Rosenthal at 83
Intimacies, set in the early '80s, dramatizes the effects of the AIDS crisis on six diverse characters.
On World AIDS Day--Tuesday, December -- Kearns will perform Intimacies at the Ground Zero Performance Café on the USC campus, as part of the "Vision and Voices: The USC Arts and Humanities Initiative," cosponsored by the LGBT Resources center. Admission is free.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for November 6 - 12, 2009
(The weekend's NEW THEATER REVIEWS are embedded in "Continuing Performances" below. You may also be able to search for them by title using your computer's
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
THE WALWORTH FARCE Playwright Enda Walsh delves into Irish-immigrant tales of the old country. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; opens Nov. 11; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (310) 825-2101.
ABE AND HIS COCONUTS: WELCOME TO PARADISE World premiere of Benjamin Benedict's comedy about a billionaire's island. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (323) 960-4443.
ACT III: THE GOLDEN YEARS? A blend of cabaret, stand-up and musical theatre written and performed by 69-year-old Dan Guerrero. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 7, 8 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.
ALL I EVER WANTED Elaine Ocasio's autobiographical show is a story of emotional survival as she is called to her father's death bed and relives his sexual abuse of her and other complexities. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sun., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 13, 7 p.m.. (310) 394-9779.
CARBON BLACK Humor-tinged psychological drama about mother-son relationship held hostage by agoraphobia, written by Terry Gomez (Comanche) opens season of Native Voices theater company. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 667-2000.
DETENTION OF THE DEAD High school sucks, especially when zombies attack. Five students in Robert Rinow's play find themselves trapped in detention together after their school is overrun with Zombies where they spend a night tormenting the decapitated zombie head of their former math teacher, getting stoned and mocking each other. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 5...
EMPEROR NORTON THE MUSICAL The "beautiful Barbary Coast spectacular" about the real-life exploits of Mark Twain and a colorful cast of pioneers. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 7; Sun., 3 p.m.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (818) 202-4120.
THE GHOST BUILDING Damon Chua's tragi-comedy inspired by events that took place at the famed Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles over the last 100 years. The play, in part a murder mystery, is also based on real-life residents of the Alexandria Hotel -- people who came to Los Angeles full of hope that was eventually shattered into broken dreams. Company of Angels, Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Nov. 6; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 883-1717.
GLBT: GAYS, LETTUCE, BACON AND TOMATO Comedy troupe Die Gruppe perform a show that will prove that "gay people have infiltrated every aspect of culture, and made it more awesome, making straight people look less awesome in the process. Don't be afraid to come out and enjoy a night of complete and utter gayness, as in joyfulness, and gayness." Also at the Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, Wed., Nov. 11, at 8 p.m. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Nov. 7, 11 p.m....
THE HOUSE OF BESARAB A new environmental adaptation of "Dracula" with Travis Holder. Audience members eat and drink in the venue's historic Deco Bar before the show. Hollywood American Legion, 2305 N. Highland Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 12; Thurs.-Sat., 9 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (310) 203-2850.
THE HUNGERERS William Saroyan's one-act play reflecting on the hardships of the Depression and the invincibility of the human spirit will be in Schoenberg Hall. UCLA, Westwood Blvd. & LeConte Ave., Westwood; Fri., Nov. 6, 8 p.m.
L'AMANTE ANGLAISE (THE ENGLISH LOVER) Claire has committed a shocking crime: the murder, dismemberment and beheading of her cousin, the deaf-mute Marie-Therese. A persistent investigator wants to know: What impelled Claire to such extreme behavior? What happened to Claire to lead her to this point? And where is Marie-Therese's head? Written by Marguerite Duras. MET Theater, downstairs in the Great Scott Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Thurs.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22.
LOVE IN BLOOM Heroes and heroines, wenches and rogues, bawdy damsels, fops and fairies. Written by Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Nov. 7; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Dec. 13. (310) 394-9779.
LOVE WILL TEAR US APART In this play by Michael Hyman a young gay man is visited each night by the voice of a former lover and is confronted by his inability to get close with anyone and his related substance addictions. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Sun., 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 13.
MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS Based on a true story surrounding the making of "Gone With the Wind," this funny tale by Ron Hutchinson illuminates the behind-the-scenes business of movie-making during the Golden Age of Hollywood. No matinee Nov. 7. No evening perf Nov. 8. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; opens Nov. 6; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (562) 944-9801.
THE NIBBLER Five teenagers come to terms with impending adulthood in Ken Urban's play set in the summer of '92 in suburban hell, Medford, N.J. No perfs Thanksgiving weekend. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (323) 856-8611.
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA Tennessee Williams' story of tormented souls finding moments of intimacy and relief in an exotic setting in Mexico. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Nov. 7, 2 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.. (323) 422-6361.
PO BOY TANGO Kenneth Lin's heartwarming play in which the issues of racism and death are addressed through the power of Shark Fin Soup, Drunken Crab, Black Feather Chicken and the like. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., L.A.; opens Nov. 11; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6. (213) 625-7000.
POLYESTER THE MUSICAL Based on book by Phil Olson, music by Wayland Pickard and lyrics by both, this is the story of The Synchronistics, an over-the-hill ABBA wannabe group who re-unites in what is described as "Mama Mia" meets "Spinal Tap.". Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 6; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 20. (818) 506-0600.
RACHEL ROSENTHAL'S 83RD BIRTHDAY BASH & SILENT AUCTION Silent auction of 83 artworks will benefit Rachel Rosenthal Company's Extreme Theatre Ensemble performances, student scholarships and stipends for visiting artist. Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., C1, Santa Monica; Sat., Nov. 7, 7 p.m.. (310) 264-4678.
TREE Julie Hebert play surrounds three generations divided by race, culture and time which are connected when a white Southern woman discovers old love letters leading her to an African-American half-brother. Complete schedule at fordtheatres.org. One Wed. show show, Dec. 9. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, L.A.; opens Nov. 7; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Dec. 13. (323) 461-3673.
THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF VICKY VIXEN Late-night serial show written by Taylor Ashbrook, Elizabeth Dement, Jeff Folschinsky and Tyler Tanner changes every weekend. Crook turned heroine protects a depressed little town from former evil mentor., By donation. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; opens Nov. 6; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. (818) 508-3003.
THE TROJAN WOMEN This version of Euripides' Greek tragedy turns it inside out, creating a vivid collage that travels from L.A. to Darfur, tackling issues of violence, mass media, obsession with youth and celebrity, and the hypnosis of pop culture. No shows Dec. 14 through Jan. 8. City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; opens Nov. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (310) 319-9939.
UPRIGHT CABARET Michael Arden, Valarie Pettiford and Ty Taylor perform the music of Joni Mitchell, Doris Day and Brian Wilson under the musical direction of Chris Bratten. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., Nov. 8, 8 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.
WACADEMIA Joe Camhi's satirical comedy about a hit man who has to take care of his father, whom he tries to teach political correctness in the same environment with his wife, who is suing an academic colleague for sexual harassment. Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; opens Nov. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (323) 874-1733.
WAIT UNTIL DARK Frederick Knott's Broadway mystery thriller about a blind woman whose home is invaded by thugs looking for drugs hidden inside a doll in her place. Hermosa Beach Playhouse, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; opens Nov. 6; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 8, 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (310) 372-4477.
WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY? One night of improvised comedy starring Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Chip Esten and Jeff B. Davis. Long Beach Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Fri., Nov. 6, 8 p.m.. (213) 480-3232.
A WINTER'S TALE: A MUSICAL DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL Lively musical adaptation showcasing both the humor and pathos of Dickens' 1843 story of spiritual renewal and redemption. No show Nov. 8. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Nov. 7; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12. (310) 828-7519.
WORD OF MOUSE A play with dance for those addicted to or suspicious of Facebook. Created by Kingsley Irons and cast. Artworks Performance Space, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Nov. 6; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 8, 6 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/86143
YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE: A WALTZ WITH DOROTHY PARKER Ashley Fuller brings several of Dorothy Parker's most celebrated soliloquies to life. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Nov. 6; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (818) 202-4120.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDENEW REVIEW BETTER ANGELS
Playwright Wayne Peter Liebman may be no Pastor Weems, but this wincingly hagiographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln (James Read) certainly suggests postgraduate work in the Weems school of exalted and fanciful presidential kitsch. Liberally sprinkled with tidbits of beloved Lincolnalia, the play introduces the Great Emancipator through the flashbacked reminiscences of John Hay (David Dean Bottrell) as Lincoln's now elderly biographer and former private secretary delivers a university lecture on the man behind the myth. To illustrate Lincoln's deceptively complex blend of folksy political wiles, razor-sharp intellect and more earthbound emotional needs, Hay relates the meeting of minds between Lincoln and the Wisconsin Angel, Cordelia Harvey (McKerrin Kelly), as the bloody carnage of Chickamauga unfolds. A war widow and real-life champion of better care for the Civil War's wounded, Mrs. Harvey visits the White House (amid Victoria Profitt's stately set pieces) to persuade the Commander-in-Chief to establish military hospitals in the North. For Lincoln, the attractive and personable lobbyist offers a flirtatious respite from the cares of office as well as from his offstage "harpy" of a First Lady. The encounter also provides the President the opportunity to test his Gettysburg Address and disambiguate his position on emancipation (yes, his intention was always to free all the slaves). Despite Liebman's romantic whimsy (and a particularly cloying postscript), Read turns in an engagingly sly, avuncular Lincoln, abetted by director Dan Bonnell's handsome staging and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's elegant, period costumes. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 558-7000. (Bill Raden)
DADDY LONG LEGS John Caird's musical about an orphan and her mysterious benefactor. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (805) 667-2900.
ENTER LAUGHING Joseph Stein's comedy, based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 28. (562) 494-1014.NEW REVIEW EXIT STRATEGY Because the elderly are "invisible" in our culture, they can pay for their rent and subscription drugs by engaging in any number of criminal activities, and also give their lives a much-needed adrenaline rush of rebellion against a society that's pretty much dismissed them, as well as against the metaphysical cruelties of aging. Such is sweet theory behind Bill Semans and Roy M. Close's sitcom, in Casey Stangl's staging that's a bundle of paradoxes: James (nicely played by James B. Sikking) is a broke and broken queen who's a poet and an ex-college professor, who got removed from his post because of a sex scandal. All he has left is his libido. After he gets kicked out of a gay bar, James laments with faux Beckettian ennui: "Sometimes I think I've sucked my last cock." He's hanging on day to day in the mid-western rooming house (realistic set by Keith Mitchell) managed by Mae (feisty Debra Mooney) - a rooming house that's just been sold to a developer. So they're both facing eviction when Alex (John C. Moskoff) arrives for a brief stay with a benignly criminal plot to earn them all some money. Is Alex a con man? Are the duo being duped by his continual pontifications on how to age well, and his philosophies of squeezing the marrow out of every day, as well as how to avoid staining oneself after urinating? There's far too much gratuitous explaining going on, so that it deflates whatever mysteries may swim in the subtext of this intriguing situation and these very nice people. Stangl's languid pacing is both this production's curse and its blessing. These characters can talk a scene to death, but when they sit, waiting for the play's most suspense-filled resolution, they speak in non-sequiturs, and the play starts to take on the enigmatic, elliptical poetry of David Storey's beautiful Home, a kind of abstract liturgy about waiting, and dying, and living. For a mystery or a metaphysical rumination, the play is far too obvious. Yet for a sitcom, in which much is expected to be explained, it moves too slowly. It's a tender and humane comedy. If only it were clearer in its convictions, so that they didn't have to be spoken as though in neon supertitles. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (818) 955-8101. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO KOOZA It's been about a decade since the blue-and-yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) was seen at Santa Monica Pier. This touring production marks the 25th anniversary of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, and also heralds a return to the simpler, less high-tech formats that informed earlier productions like Quidam and Allegria -- the emphasis here being on the old circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics. But that's not to say that there is something missing here. On the contrary, creator-director David Shiner, who made quite a name for himself as a clown in outings like Fool Moon, has packed this show with drama, comedy, whimsy, music, exotica, slick choreography, and plenty of how-do-they-do-that? moments. The show starts with an Innocent (Stephan Landry) opening a box containing a trickster (Mike Tyus), who reveals the magical world of the circus. And what a world it is! The clowns pull off some dazzling and funny routines, and interact throughout with the audience. Contortionists Julie Bergez, Natasha Patterson and Dasha Sovik twist their tiny bodies into letters of the alphabet, among other things. Lee Thompson amazes with a pickpocket routine at the expense of an unsuspecting attendee. Jimmy Ibarra and Angelo Lyerzkysky garnered a standing ovation for their superhuman feats on the Wheel of Death -- a daunting contraption that resembles two interconnected hamster wheels. Marie-Chantale Valliancourt's collage of costumes are stunning. Under the Grand Chapiteau at the Santa Monica Pier. Tues.-Thurs, 8 p.m.; Fri-Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 5 p.m.; through December 20. cirquedusoleil.com/kooza or (800) 450-1480. (Lovell Estell III)
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 Nov. 8. (310) 208-54545.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS Musical Theatre West presents the World's Fair classic. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 8, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 15, 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15, www.musical.org. (562) 856-1999.
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 December 19. (323) 666-4268.
PARADE NEW REVIEWPARADE Alfred Uhry, Jason Robert Brown and Harold Prince's musical is based on a miscarriage of justice against Leo Frank (T.R. Knight), a Jewish man in 1913 Atlanta wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year old Mary Phalen (Rose Sezniak) in the pencil factory where she worked, and where Frank was superintendent. Rob Ashford's sumptuous staging, and Brown's caressing ragtime/pop score, are in the service of what's aiming to be tragedy of mythic proportions. Uhry's predictable storytelling, however, invites us to react to the obvious rather than reflect on the mysterious, turning the entire event into child's play. Christopher Oram's set, featuring a shape-shifting Confederate mural, under Neil Austin's lighting, is gorgeous to look at. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.; through Nov. 15. (213) 628-2772. A Donmar Warehouse Production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GOPOINT 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.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Children's musical, book by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Hope Juber, lyrics and music by Hope and Lawrence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977.
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.
THE TRAGEDY OF RICHARD III Director Geoff Elliott gives us a traditional production of Shakespeare's most emphatically rhetorical tragedy, setting it in its proper historical period, the 1480s. Steve Weingartner's feisty, shaven-headed Richard is zestily malevolent, alternating sly, saturnine humor and self-satisfaction with unbridled savagery. Deborah Strang plays the vengeful Queen Margaret as a raddled, ragged, witchlike creature, and Lenne Klingaman is a spunky Lady Anne. Freddy Douglas is stalwartly noble as Richard's nemesis, the Earl of Richmond; Apollo Dukakis is a venerable King Edward; and Susan Angelo plays his embattled queen with aplomb. So it remains a mystery why this staging feels so inert. Perhaps it's because of some curious choices by Elliott: Decking the ghosts who haunt Richard with Christmas lights is more gimmicky than haunting. Designer Darcy Scanlin provides the moody and somberly beautiful multileveled set, and Ken Merckx Jr. and Spike Steingasser provide dynamic fight choreography, though something seemed amiss in the climactic combat between Richard and Richmond. Sound designer Patricia Hotchkiss uses the neighing of terrified horses to startling effect, but the near-constant soundtrack of cawing crows, bird song and dripping water is often distracting. It's a fitfully impressive production, if not always a satisfying one. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; in alternating repertory; call theatre for schedule. (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1. www.anoisewithin.org. (Neal Weaver)
SALLY SPECTRE THE MUSICAL: A CHILDREN'S HORROR STORY FOR ADULTS Book, music and lyrics by David P. Johnson. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 29. (323) 851-7977.NEW REVIEW SATURN RETURNS refers to the phenomenon of the planet's nearly 30 year trip around the sun and the life-changing astrological effect of that journey as it returns to the astral position it occupied at the birth of character named Gustin. In Noah Haidle's intriguing but unformed play, Gustin navigates between the important life changes during this planetary effect on Gustin at age 28 (Graham Michael Hamilton), 58 (Connor O'Farrell) and 88 (Nick Ullett). Near the end of his life, Gustin suffering insurmountable loneliness, clings to the company of visiting nurse Suzanne (Krisen Bush, who portray's the play's three women). His middle-aged ghost is seen pleading with his 29-year-old daughter not to leave him, while she tries to find him a romantic mate to set herself free of his desperation for human contact. Finally his youthful self longs for his sweet but unstable wife to simply love him without fear. Individually the three stories are written with compelling relationships, but the point of their on-stage intersection, while obvious from the title and suggested by the situations of loneliness, is never quite established by the text. The acting, under David Emme's sensitive direction is outstanding -- particularly Bush, who finds the difference among her three characters with remarkable specificity. With Ralph Funicello's crisp scenic design, supported perfectly by Lonnie Rafael Ulcerous' lights and Nephelie Andonyadis' costumes, the physical atmosphere is beautifully delivered. All that is missing here is a real purpose to the story. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (714) 708-5555. (Tom Provenzano)
SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD Jason Robert Brown's musical collection of "transformation stories.". Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (562) 432-5934.
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.
AMERICAN GRIND An amalgam of the work of four writers and two directors, this hybrid piece falls somewhere between sketch comedy and a full-fledged play. Set in a coffee house, it features five or six overlapping scenarios. Kevyn (Michael Ponte) is a self-styled self-help guru who is using the venue to recruit clientele. Tudi (writer Cheri Anne Johnson), the white half of an interracial couple, is convinced she's a black woman born into a white body (in the same way some transsexuals believe that in them, nature's gone awry). Tudi's looking to create a rapport between her uptight suburban parents (Charles Marti and Christina L. Mason) and her lover (Daniel Valery), a condescending hipster -- while coping with the painful reality of his other women. Betty (writer Tracy Lane) and Nick (writer Andrew Hamrick) are a librarian and high school teacher, respectively -- both looking for love and too petrified to acknowledge they may have found it in each other. Rose (Lauren Benge) a fatherless teen distraught over her pregnancy, gets help from Joe (Cooper Anderson), who once abandoned his family. Co-directed by P.J. Marshall and Jennifer Cetrone, the production aims to meld its various plots into a cohesive whole, but the result is closer to a choppily aligned jigsaw. Most of the performances are capable or better, but stronger direction would improve them. The writing is also strong in some places, in need of sharpening in others. E. Yarber is one of the four writers. A From the Ground Up Theater Company production. (Deborah Klugman). Lyric-Hyperion Theater, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.fromthegrounduptheatre.org.NEW REVIEW ANSWER THE CALL
This well-meaning musical deserves credit for espousing universal respect and genuine family values (not the ersatz right-wing kind), but it's otherwise an awkward effort. Writers Michael Antin and Leonard Bloom -- music and lyrics by Antin -- build their story around an 11-year old boy's school assignment to learn more about his family. Offspring of a mixed marriage -- a Gentile songwriter father, Sam (Derell Maury Friedman) and a Jewish mom, Jill (Josie Yount) -- Eddie (Spencer Price) seeks out his curmudgeonly maternal granddad, Gordon (Lou Briggs). Also a songwriter, Gordon is happy to shower Eddie and his sister Becky (Haley Price) with anecdotes about his military service, his horse thief uncle, his heady times in Nashville, his rural childhood, his beach frolicking days and so on. Unfortunately, these ramblings don't coalesce. Even in a genre that often plays fast and loose with narrative logic, this piece comes off woefully short. Grandma Hannah (L.B. Zimmerman) dances with a healing broken hip. Never-before-known secrets are revealed -- Sam had a brutal childhood, Gordon's brother was tragically murdered -- then swiftly forgotten, as we move to the next riff or song. The best of these is the self-descriptive "Crap on the Golden Years." Others less interesting include one sung by the caregiver (Shamarrah E. Pates) about having car trouble. The vocals are passable, and under Friedman's direction, the performances conform to cliché. Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/answerthecall. (323) 960-7735. (Deborah Klugman)
BACKSTAGE GREASE Behind the scenes at a production of Grease, by Kristian Steel. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.. (323) 850-7827.
BIG RIVER: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN Actors Co-op presents Mark Twain's classic, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 462-8460.NEW REVIEW GO BLEEDING THROUGH
Adapted from Norman Klein's novella of the same title, this world premiere, co-written and co-directed by Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo, explores historical Angelino Heights (not coincidentally the location of the theatre) and the ghosts of its glamorous past. The Unreliable Narrator (David Freuchting) introduces us to the world of the play, as it moves fluidly between the past and present. He speaks with Ezra (Ed Ramolete) and Molly (Lynn Milgrim), now two elderly residents of the neighborhood, as he researches a potential murder. Through their memories we learn of a younger Molly (Elizabeth Rainey) who came from Indiana and worked in men's clothing, which naturally brought her into contact with a number of men, including husbands Jack (Brian Joseph) and Walt (Pete Pano), as well as Jack's father and longtime customer Harry (James Terry). Chavez and Portillo's expansive "surround" set, designed by Akeime Mitterlehner, offers a unique staging that, along with the accompaniment of live musicians Scott Collins and Vinny Golia, immerses the audience in the noir world. Francois-Pierre Couture's angular lighting, Pamela Shaw's wonderfully detailed costumes, Claudio Rocha's well-integrated videography, and Diane Arellano's installation of historical artifacts, which the audience is allowed to explore at intermission, all enhance the ambience as well. Rainey and Milgrim play their double roles with aplomb, but the main drawback to the piece is the lack of dramatic momentum in the writing, making older Molly's line, "at some point, a place becomes more important than a person," ring all the more true. Shakespeare Festival/LA, 1238 W. First St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 595-4849. About Productions. (Mayank Keshaviah)
BLOOD AND THUNDER World-premiere play about Hurricane Katrina by Terence Anthony. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.movingarts.org/nowplaying.html. (323) 856-6168.
CARNIVAL KNOWLEDGE: LOVE, LUST AND OTHER HUMAN ODDDITIES Naomi Grossman's solo comedy. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/carnivalknowledge. (323) 930-1804.NEW REVIEW GO THE CHANGELING This unsparing melodrama was the hit of 1622 and still packs a punch today. Thomas Middleton (who cowrote the play with William Rowley) also helped the Bard revise Measure for Measure. Like that perverse comedy, The Changeling welcomes the audience to a romantic comedy before about-facing and biting them in the behind. Beatrice-Joanna (Melissa Chalsma) is a rich man's daughter pursued by three suitors: her father's manservant (Luis Galindo), her fiancé (Tom Mesmer), and her love (Sean Pritchett). She provokes the first to murder the second so she can marry the third, but that foul deed can't go unpunished. What follows is a glut of lurid tragedies: bribes, rape, paid sexual services, shootings, arson, truth potions, stabbing, dismemberment, more stabbing, and suicide. Across town, an asylum owner (Roberto Bonanni) trusts his warden (Bob Beuth) to keep his younger wife (Katherine Leigh) chaste, not knowing that his employee is lusting after her, along with two lotharios (Richard Azurdia and Rajan Velu) feigning madness to get alone time with his lovely bride. Though the play predates the Origin of Species by 237 years, you can feel it wrestling with questions Darwin would make public, namely the mystery of female choice and the suspicion that humanity is just an animal operating on passion, jealousy and instinct. It feels natural then that director Pat Towne has updated the setting to Victorian England -- when the condescending Beuth calls his inmates beasts and checks their teeth like cattle, we're reminded of the haves' defense of Social Darwinism. Aside for some lighting cues that muddied the end of Act I, this is a dark and fascinating production well served by the strong ensemble and Mikiko Nagao's steampunk costuming. Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 710-6306. Independent Shakespeare Company (Amy Nicholson)
THE CONQUEST OF THE SOUTH POLE German playwright Manfred Karge's 1988 fantasia about a quartet of unemployed men re-enacting Roald Amundsen's 1911 trek to the South Pole. Rory C. Mitchell's nicely animated staging remains tethered by lapses of acting technique. Elephant Performance Lab, 6324 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through November 22. (323) 960-4429. A Smith and Martin Company production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
DESIRE/EL DESEO Written by Victor Hugo Rascón Banda. Note: Adults only. Sexual Content. Full-frontal male nudity. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (213) 382-8133.
DETENTION FROM THE DEAD Robert Rinow's zombie comedy. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Dec. 5. (310) 358-9936.
DON JUAN TENORIO By Jose Zorrilla. Bilingual Foundation of Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 225-4044.
FIT FOR SOCIETY Fit for Society is a pastiche of war veterans' stories, written by Brian Monahan (who is from a military family) and Stephen Wolfert (a veteran of the U.S. Army). Some are direct, personal accounts, some are first-person dramatic monologues delivered straight to the audience, and some are monologues to an invisible character. While the work is earnest and, at times, powerful, the stylistic disunity weakens the overriding idea. And because the evening runs scattershot over a wide range of veteran themes -- most of which have been introduced to us in media coverage of the last 40 years of war -- we aren't challenged by the kind of specificity that opens up new ways of understanding the futility, waste and tragedy of war. Director Stephan Wolfert, however, shapes the performances of his excellent cast well, inspiring an authentic, gripping tone throughout. Standouts include Ian Casselberry's infantryman divested of his humanity and Arnell Powell's brusque drill sergeant. And Randy Brumbaugh's lights are particularly effective on the small, open stage. But what we ultimately see is a truly inspired series of previews for several potentially stirring plays. (Luis Reyes). Veterans Center for the Performing Arts, 446 S. La Brea Ave. (alley entrance at Mortise & Tenon), L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 9. (323) 533-2847 (Luis Reyes)
FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE That's weekly sketch comedy done by some of the best in the sketch biz. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.. (323) 525-0202.
THE GAY MAFIA Queer sketch and improv comedy. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Wed., Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m., www.plays411.com. www.plays411.com.
THE GLORY OF LIVING Rebecca Gilman's story of a 15-year-old runaway and her car-thief boyfriend. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.elcentrotheatre.com. (323) 230-7261.
GOGOL PROJECT Director Sean T. Cawalti's production of playwright Kitty Felde's adaptation of three short stories by Russian Absurdist Nikolai Gogol is a whirligig of ferocious creativity. In "The Nose," a pompous small-town politician (Tom Ashworth) wakes up to discover that his nose has decided to go AWOL, and he's frustrated when the wandering member transforms into an enormous schnoz capable of rescuing dogs from wells and romancing local lovelies. "Diary of a Madman" shows a low-level drone of a civil servant (Ben Messmer, wonderfully bug-eyed) spurned in love and going insane, imagining he hears local dogs sending each other love letters. In "The Overcoat," a mild-mannered postal clerk (Kristopher Lee Bicknell, sweetly channeling Charlie Chaplin) buys a new overcoat, which ultimately brings him nothing but tragedy. Performers caparisoned in Pat Rubio's stunning Commedia-style masks interact with the dazzling puppets designed by the production's six-person mask crew in a manner that often suggests a spooky Russian tragic version of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. The astonishing, Big Bird-sized nose puppet, snorting up Danishes provided by the town baker, is a particular delight. Elsewhere, the show's imagination is best showcased in details, from the sequence in which a murderous barber's fantasies of killing his client are projected in shadow puppet form on the wall behind him, to the scenes involving the talking dogs, whose beautiful puppet forms are manipulated Bunraku-style with masked puppeteers. Ultimately, though, Felde's workmanlike script is so broad and perfunctory, we feel little emotional connection to the characters or the situations, and the production's admittedly gorgeous artifice essentially upstages the storytelling. The end result is an experience that is undeniably provocative but also assaultive and occasionally hyperactive. A Rogue Artists Ensemble Production. (Paul Birchall). Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006.
NEW REVIEW GO GROWING UP WITH UNCLE MILTIE
As a young girl growing up in New York City, Patt Benson dreamed of making her mark in show business. Thanks to a combination of luck, talent and an unlikely friendship with a big name-celebrity, she succeeded. In her charming solo outing, Benson recounts her arduous journey from Manhattan schoolgirl to Hollywood celebrity with the help of the redoubtable Milton Berle. By turns humorous and poignant, she tells of a childhood marred by the occasional drunken outbursts and abuse by her father and how her mother tolerated them, her time in parochial school and her budding desire to be a comedian which was nurtured by her mother. Her first encounter with Berle happened in the fall of '53, while she was on the way to tap-dancing class. Gradually, she became something of a protégé of the comedian, showing up on his TV show, earning his respect and admiration, and like all the eventual winners in the Hollywood lottery whose persistence pays off, snagging a plum role in the sitcom Joe and Valerie. Benson packs a lot of material into this short piece, and there are more than a few confusing gaps in the narrative. But her writing is heartfelt and at times deeply evocative (her descriptions of New York City are filled with alluring images). Rich Embardo directs. Improv Comedy Lab., 8162 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; Sun., 7 p.m..; thru Nov. 22. (323) 651-2583. (Lovell Estell III)
HAMLET Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (323) 667-0955.
HIGH CEILINGS It's not clear whether writer-performer Jillian Crane was attempting to write a wacky sitcom, an Absurdist farce, or an old-fashioned madcap comedy, but the outcome is way more inane than amusing. Crane's heroine, Lily -- a role she also plays -- is apparently intended to be a charming kook, but she emerges as a pushy, bullying, insensitive and inconsiderate nut who, on the eve of her nuptials, carries on with the florist (Lauchlin MacDonald), mistreats and ignores her husband-to-be (Chris Smith), and creates a scandal at the wedding rehearsal by attempting to marry her depressive, heavily medicated and usually comatose father (Patrick Pankhurst). Her prospective bridegroom immediately dumps her -- the play's only sensible act. There's little rhyme, reason, logic, psychology or credibility to the proceedings. There's not much director Valerie Landsburg and her talented cast can do with such material. I don't have a clue as to what the title means, or why anybody chose to produce this farrago. (Neal Weaver). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (800) 838-3006.
HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Jim Cashman. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 934-9700.
GO THE ILLUSION Translator Ranjit Bolt's adaptation of Corneille's 17th-century classic starts out stodgily but soon swerves merrily into comic gear. A remorseful father (Kevin McCorkle) seeks the help of a magician (Alexander Wright) in tracking down his estranged son. It turns out the young man, Clindor (Benny Wills) -- attached to a fatuous nobleman named Matamore (Jon Monastero) -- has been acting as emissary for this overblown buffoon to a lady named Isabelle (Nicole Disson). Something of a Don Juan, Clindor has clandestinely wooed both Isabelle and her maid, Lyse (Kendra Chell), who now smolders with jealousy, aware that her opportunistic paramour has upped his sights on the social ladder. Directed by David Bridel, the production gets laughs from Monastero's lisping braggart-nobleman, whose grandiose claims to be a mighty warrior and lover evaporate at the mere whiff of a challenge. As the maid, Chell airs much of the script's wit and wisdom in a smart, snappy performance. Disson and other supporting players also deliver the goods. Wills is fine as the dashing hero, but the production might have been more interesting if he'd played it less upright and instead exploited the character's deviousness a little more. Eventually the play's humor deflates, as the magician's tale mutates into a portrait of adultery and of the marriage between Isabelle and Clindor gone awry. Christina Wright's costumes add color and charm. Open Fist Theater, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 21. (323) 882-6912. (Deborah Klugman)
IMAGOFEST 2009 Three one-acts: E.M. Lewis' Sing Me That Leonard Cohen Song Again, Tim McNeil's Purplish, Alex Aves' The Goldilocks Effect. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 465-4446.
LA RONDE DE LUNCH Peter Lefcourt's "Tinseltown tour de farce" set in a pretentious Hollywood restaurant. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 15. (310) 358-9936.
GO LIFE COULD BE A DREAM This affectionate doo-wop juke-box musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy "Sh Boom" and "Rama Lama Ding Dong" to anthems like "Earth Angel," "Unchained Melody," "The Great Pretender," and "The Glory of Love." In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they're incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical. (Neal Weaver) Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., and Sun., 3 p.m.; indef. (323) 960-4412.
LOS ANGELES COMEDY FESTIVAL 18 nights of world-premiere comedy features, short films, TV pilots, and ensembles. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Through Nov. 22, 8 & 9:30 p.m., www.lacomedyfest.com. (323) 463-2942.
MEMOIRS Paul Benjamin's story of heroin-addict veteran. Stage 52 Theatre, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/memoirs. (323) 960-5521.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NUTHIN Shakespeare's comedy, transported to 1940s Tennessee. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 21, www.arktheatre.org. (323) 969-1707.
GO NEVER LAND Phyllis Nagy is a New Yorker who has spent the larger part of her playwriting career in Britain, and is now a naturalized citizen of the U.K. (Her poetical and unflinchingly brutal works were embraced by Stephen Daldry's Royal Court Theatre, and she currently has commissions with both the National Theatre of Great Britain and the Royal Shakespeare Company.) She's here to direct the U.S. premiere of her play, Never Land, a comedy of sorts that grapples firmly and unsentimentally with many facets of exile. In the rain-soaked south of France, a native, Henri Joubert (Bradley Fisher), his wife, Anne (Lisa Pelikan), and their beautiful, aging daughter, Elisabeth (Katherine Tozer), possess the language, dialect and attitudes of upwardly mobile Brits. They simply lack the lineage and resources -- what with Henri working as a hired hand at the local perfumery for a jocular, world-wise boss (William Dennis Hunt). Henri's woes are compounded by his masochistic daughter's engagement to a presumptuous black man (William Christopher Stephens), and by Michael's offer to sweep her out of France -- an offer Henri's wife envies and covets. Henri also has an offer -- or, like his daughter, he believes he does. An Englishman, Nicholas Caton-Smith (Christopher Shaw), who lives half the year in France, runs a series of bookshops in lackluster British cities. Henri believes that his future happiness lies in managing one of his neighbor's shops in Bristol. (Shannon Holt has a beguiling, twitchy humor as Caton-Smith's poodle of a wife.) The murkiness of these promises forms the strategically wobbling axis of Nagy's Absurdist and ultimately despondent comedy, which speaks as much in symbols and dreams as it does in the gently unfolding story -- not unlike a latter-day Woyzeck. The family portraits that decorate Frederica Nascimento's stark set are removed, one by one, as the scenes progress, as the rain pours down unrelentingly. The comedy is lyrical, urbane and erotically charged (largely by Swinda Reichelt's silky costumes), yet technical problems intrude upon what should be a kind of haunting. In one scene, the sound of the rain is so severe, crucial dialogue becomes muffled. Moreover, the play's flow depends on a descent from a comedy of British manners into the marsh created by the emotional and atmospheric tempests of a foreign land. Despite the caliber of the actors, the blithe and witty repartee of Act 1 is more mannered than crackling, giving the production a layer of artifice it can ill afford, with its already built-in shifts to the laconic and the violent. This beautiful, difficult play deserves a fully accomplished production to match its brilliance. It could approach that standard as its run progresses. Rogue Machine in Theater/Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 15. (323) 960-7774. (Steven Leigh Morris)
POST Donavon Thomas' drama about the after-affects of the Iraq War on two veterans. Flight Theater at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/post. (323) 960-7740.
SCARCITY Kappy Kilburn's nicely acted production of Lucy Thurber's domestic drama (making its West Coast premiere) gets to the unspoken truths of a family in rural Massachussetts that's ensnared by poverty, though there's plenty on that theme that's spoken as well. Unemployed and alcoholic Herb (Randy Irwin who turns his off-the-charts alcohol-blood levels into a bliss that's almost charming) lashes out at his wife, Martha (a spirited performance by Rebecca Jordan), because he sees the unwanted romantic attentions she's getting from her cousin, local cop Louie (Steve Walker, whose comedy background makes itself felt here), who's also been buying Herb's family groceries they can't afford themselves. If Louie gave his own wife, Gloria (Wendy Johnson), even half the attention he lavishes on Martha, he'd be a far better husband, but that would make for a comparatively tedious play. At Herb's dinner table, with Louis and Gloria present, Herb lashes out at Martha for the blow jobs he imagines she's giving Louis. "If you don't get a job, I may have to start," she snaps back. Actually Herb and Martha's sex life is robust, as their embarrassed children -- 11-year-old Rachel (Bridgen Shergalis, wry and smart) and 16-year-old Billy (Jarrett Sleeper) -- could tell you. But that doesn't stop Herb from expressing his incestuous erotic attractions to his kid daughter. It's a source of disgust that goes nowhere dramatically, just one in a series of perverse idiosyncrasies that floats in the mire of their lives. The more relevant perversity comes from Billy's smitten schoolteacher, wealthy Ellen (Kim Swennen), a do-gooder whose do-gooding is too conspicuous to be in good taste. Young, sadistic Billy tortures her psychologically as she pulls out all her connections to get him funded for a private college. While she masturbates him in the family kitchen, he forces her to say out loud that she's stupid - a confession that's his aphrodisiac. These S&M dynamics are a bit like Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with Billy's precocious little sister pining not be left behind. Director Kilburn hasn't refined the tone, so that the agony ostensibly provoking them all to be so cruel, and the comedy which garners so many laughs, feel as though they belong to different plays, rather than stemming from the same wellspring of frustration. The story, however, never lets go, and Adam Rigg's realistic set (with wooden Mallard duck and duckling perched on a low wooden cabinet) speak the design-language of excruciatingly authentic 1970s chic. (Steven Leigh Morris). Imagined Life Theater, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.needtheater.org. (800) 838-3006.
SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE Charles Marowitz's 1984 farce finds Sherlock Holmes (Stephen Van Dorn) facing double jeopardy. He's receiving death threats from the son (Michael Tauzin) of his long-standing enemy Professor Moriarty. The younger Moriarty seeks revenge for his father's death. Holmes is also pursued by a woman of doubtful identity (Teresa Bisson), and worst of all, he has declared, "Elementary, my dear Watson" once too often. Watson (Steve Gustafson), pushed over the edge by Holmes' arrogance and condescension, has hatched an elaborate plot to do the master in, via the fiendish Frontenac Chair, which traps its occupant in its lethal clutches. Marowitz knows the Holmes canon well, and provides all the staple ingredients: clever ruses, impossibly erudite and perceptive deductions, disguises, dramatic reversals and improbable escapes. The piece amuses for much of its length, but eventually the joke wears thin. Director Jeremy Lewit's mostly nimble production is occasionally heavy-handed, but he makes clever use of the Baker Street Irregulars (Bisson, Marcos Estevez, James Ledesma, and Tauzin) to effect the elaborate changes on Tim Farmer's handsome and ingenious set. Kimberly Overton provides handsome period costumes. (Neal Weaver). Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (323) 462-8460.
GO SHINING CITY Conor McPherson's pristine study in urban loneliness, first produced in 2004, unfolds in a Dublin walkup where a sexually confused therapist, Ian (William Dennis Hurley), listens, and listens, and listens some more to the half completed sentences spewed by his despondent client, John (Morlan Higgins), who keeps bursting into paroxysms of sobbing over the loss of his wife, killed in an auto accident. Making matters worse, the couple were estranged at the time, and what will eventually unfold is John's story of his blazingly pathetic and unconsumed adultery with someone he met at a party -- his blunderings, his selfishness, and his need not so much for sex but for the validation that comes from human contact, which his now-late wife couldn't provide to his satisfaction. John is haunted by her ghost, and Ian must ever so gently tell him that what he saw or heard was real, but ghosts simply aren't. (That gently yet smugly articulated theory will be challenged, along with every other pretense of what's real, and what isn't.) While listening to his forlorn client, and answering with such kindness and sensitivity, Ian is himself going through hell: A former priest, he must now explain to his flummoxed wife (Kerrie Blaisdell, imagine the multiple reactions of a cat that's just been thrown out a window) that he's leaving her, and their child, though he will move mountains to continue to support them financially. Ian's plight becomes a tad clearer with the visit of a male prostitute (Benjamin Keepers) in yet another pathetic and almost farcical endeavor to connect with another human being. Director Stephen Sachs' meticulous attention to detail manifests itself in the specificity with which Ian places his chair, in the sounds of offstage footsteps on the almost abandoned building's stairwell (sound design by Peter Bayne), in the ebbs and flows of verbiage and silence, in Higgins' hulking tenderness, and in the palate of emotions reflected in the slender Hurley's withering facial reactions. This is a moving portrait, in every sense: delicate, comical, desolate and profoundly humane. It's probably a bit too long, the denouement lingers to margins of indulgence, but that's a quibble in a production of such rare beauty. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through December 19. (323) 663-1525. (Steven Leigh Morris)
SLASHER Allison Moore's comedy thriller. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 13, www.plays411.com/slasher. (323) 960-7776.
SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Sketch comedy by the African-American troupe. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Nov. 8; Through Nov. 21; Through Dec. 5. (323) 469-9988.
SONDHEIM UNSCRIPTED Impro Theatre makes up musicals. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (800) 838-3006.
STRAY There's an old adage taught in playwriting workshops that goes something like, "when in doubt, raise the stakes." The idea being that the extremity of potential consequences directly determines a drama's narrative torque. Judging by this earnest but desultory, Bad Seed melodrama, it's a class playwright Ruth McKee evidently skipped. What's at stake here is whether the disruptive, albeit never-seen 8-year-old Ugandan refugee, Daniel, will be allowed to stay at his Midwestern magnet school or whether his increasingly bizarre behavior will banish him to the "special-ed warehouse" at the city's overcrowded and underfunded elementary school. For his altruistic, white adoptive parents, James (Matt Gaydos) and his Kenyan wife, Rachel (Analeis Lorig), the wrong outcome threatens to tarnish their reputations as caregivers. For the school's harried principal, Tanya (the fine Angela Bullock), and Daniel's neophyte teacher, Ms. Kennedy (the funny Jennifer Chang), it's impossible to both teach and deal with a child who cowers under his desk and barks (and bites!) like a rabid dog. As a therapist is brought in (Eileen Galindo) and battle lines are drawn, there's a tantalizing moment when the characters' emerging emotional insecurities, personal prejudices and cultural misunderstandings seem poised to give flight to a caustic comedy of errors. That this more satisfying trajectory never lifts off is no fault of director Larissa Kokernot's brisk staging or of her polished ensemble but rather the timidity and pallid plotting of McKee's surface-bound text. (Bill Raden). Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.thedahlia.com. (800) 838-3006.
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.
TILTED FRAME Live improv performed simultaneously in Los Angeles and San Francsico, thanks to the magic of the Internet. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19, www.tiltedframe.com. (323) 962-1632.
TRACERS Vietnam War story, conceived by John DiFusco, written by the cast. Elephant Stageworks, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 12, www.plays411.com/tracers. (323) 960-4410.
VAMPIRE MASQUERADE Vampires and witches put on a show, written and directed by Chris Berube. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Fri., 8 & 9:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theberubians.com. (323) 850-7827.
A VERY DARK PLACE Brandon Alter's horror comedy about a soap star in a haunted house. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.plays411.com/darkplace. (323) 960-7822.
VINNIE: THE DEATH & AFTERLIFE OF VINCENT VAN GOGH One hundred and nineteen years after his "accidental" suicide, the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh (Glen Anthony Vaughan) leaves his limbo for prematurely deceased geniuses to visit Brooklyn painter David (Herbert Russell) who, like him, is broke, desperate and depressed. The master's first advice: "Get over it, fuckhead!" From there, the two get along like gangbusters and embark on a fun, aimless rant fueled by coke and absinthe that climaxes when David's girlfriend (Emma Ford) and brother (Michael Postalakis) cart him off to Bellevue. The second act of writer-director Peter Abbay's comedy takes place in the cuckoo's nest (complete with catatonic guy comic relief) where David fights to prove his sanity and discover his artistic raison d'<0x00EA>tre. By this time, it's clear the play doesn't have one of its own. Vaughan's Van Gogh is vibrant and scabrous (his reaction to visiting the MET is "I'm so fucking famous, it's, like, not even funny") but trapped in David's nuthouse, there's little for him to do besides interject jokes as the production pads its nearly two-and-a-half hour running time with inessential subplots and three separate endings. The legend is alive yet adrift. (Amy Nicholson). Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. http://vinnie.eventbrite.com
THE VILLAGE VARIETY PACK See GoLA., $15. The Village at The Gay & Lesbian Center, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A.; Mon., Nov. 9, 8 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 23, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 7, 8 p.m.; Mon., Dec. 21, 8 p.m.. (323) 860-7302.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
AS WHITE AS O Against the backdrop of a New York art show titled "The Innocents: 30 Years of Outsider Art in America," this world premiere of novelist Stacy Sims' first dramatic endeavor explores synesthesia, a condition in which senses are cross-wired so that feelings are "tasted" and letters and numbers appear in specific colors, among other things. The "outsiders," in this case, are Jack (Vince Tula) and his father, Sam (Mark St. Amant), who both spent much of Jack's childhood in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, festooning their modest backwoods cabin with the detritus of our consumer society. While such decoration was therapeutic for them after losing Jack's mother, Grace (Elizabeth Sampson), they are discovered by Clara (Lauren Clark), a documentary filmmaker who becomes interested in the house and in Sam. Running parallel to this story line, adult Jack is the subject of another work in the same show by Ed (Ramon Campos), who interviews and videotapes Jack in order to create his piece. The play fluidly oscillates between the present and the past, and accomplished director Sam Anderson deftly handles the transitions, though his pacing and shaping of his characters' emotional climaxes are a bit uneven. Desma Murphy's set, enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's subtly shifting lighting, is wonderfully detailed and spatially enhances the piece's thematic elements. The cast has moments of inspiration, but only Sampson consistently delivers the emotional energy required of Sims' script, which itself would be strengthened by fewer tangential story lines, and a stronger central plot. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 12, www.roadtheatre.org. (866) 811-4111.
A BIG GAY NORTH HOLLYWOOD WEDDING Interactive homo-nuptials, by William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 745-8527.
BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's Victorian comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., Nov. 7, 8 p.m.. (818) 700-4878.
GO THE END OF CIVILIZATION doesn't entail an-end-of-the-world holocaust, though it might feel that way to Harry (Eric Curtis Johnson) and Lily (Jaime Andrews), the middle-class couple at the nub of Canadian George F. Walker's ominously dark comedy. One of six in Walker's "Motel Series" of plays, it takes place against the backdrop of a national financial crisis, which has left Harry -- and millions more -- jobless. The prescient Walker wrote this in late 1998. For reasons never entirely clear, Harry has opted to job-search from a seedy motel room rather than his comfortable suburban digs, which are now in danger of foreclosure. Leaving their kids with her sister, Lily has accompanied him as a show of support, but her confidence -- along with the raison d'être for her entire existence -- is teetering, as Harry's behavior grows progressively more erratic and rage-driven. Their new, nightmarish existence roils out of control when two detectives (Phillip Simone and Bob Rusch) -- one of whom is obsessively fixated on Lily -- show up, suspecting Harry of having murdered three men. Keeping track of this plot is not always easy, as events are presented in nonchronological order, and it's not till the end that we become privy to the story's point of departure, from which the shattering climax ensues. Under James Sharpe's direction, Johnson and Andrews display their marital torments in persuasive three dimensions. Gemma Massot is spot-on as the take-no-prisoners hooker next door, while Simone and Rusch are also effective. Yet the punch the production lands only puts us on the ropes; with a bit more timing and finesse it could knock us to the floor. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake; Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; through November 29. (818) 838-3006. A SkyPilot Theatre Company production. (Deborah Klugman)
THE FOREIGNER Larry Shue's comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (626) 256-3809.
GOD SAVE GERTRUDE Playwright Deborah Stein's melodramatic, musical mash-up of '70s punk-rock and Hamlet is eerily reminiscent of a beer-fueled, college-dorm-room debate over what constitutes a punk aesthetic -- albeit the losing side. As suggested by Stein's fictional ex-punk superstar-turned vodka-swilling first lady, Gertrude (Jill Van Velzer), the play argues that punk was a politically idealistic movement agitating for social revolution. Maybe, but real-life veterans of New York's CBGB's or Max's Kansas City -- Gertrude's erstwhile, formative music scenes -- might remember something slightly more sardonic, skeptical and nihilistic. Nevertheless, in this Bizarro Shakespeare, where a besieged Elsinore is under bombardment by an anarchist army, Gertrude takes refuge in a decrepit theater (on Susan Gratch's war-torn set) to perform an impromptu concert of old songs interspersed with regrets over her betrayal of that alleged punk spirit. Her remorse includes complicity in the murder of a first husband by her current president/spouse (James Horan) that has left her rising, rock-star son (Steve Coombs) smoldering with resentment. But if Van Velzer's portrayal of a grasping, narcissistic diva doesn't exactly resonate with the Bard's Gertrude, Stein and composer David Hanbury prove more in tune as a lyricist-songwriter team for the show's half-dozen, faux-vintage punk numbers. Van Velzer belts them out with credible gusto, though director Michael Michetti's somewhat lumbering production could have benefited from the energy of live accompaniment instead of musical director Rob Oriol's prerecorded band in a can. (Bill Raden). Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (626) 683-6883.
IT'S JUST SEX Jeff Gould's comedy about "lust and trust." Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (818) 762-2282.
GO JUST IMAGINE The fun of seeing and hearing Tim Piper's great John Lennon impersonation in an intimate setting with an outstanding band, under Greg Piper's musical direction, is just undeniable. The evening, which includes a large portion of the Beatles catalog followed by Lennon's solo work, never misses a beat or lick with Piper's perfectly pitched and accented voice and expert instrumentation: Don Butler's hot guitar, Morley Bartnoff's keyboard and Don Poncher's drums. The guys scruffily kowtow to Lennon's lead, creating the perfect illusion of superstar power. Jonathan Zenz's sound design achieves a powerful volume without killing our ears in the small Noho Arts Center space. Lighting by Luke Moyer along with Tim Piper's video images complete the double fantasy of Lennon before and after Yoko. The musical portion is so enjoyable, under the overall eye of director Steve Altman, that we hopefully forget the lame one-man play that slips between the songs. Perhaps the plan is to pull Lennon off his lofty saintlike perch, but the result of a plodding timeline narrative bio leaves Lennon sounding dull and whiny, until the music returns him to his proper place. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. www.justimaginetheshow.com. (818) 508-7101, Ext. 7. (Tom Provenzano)
LANDSCAPING THE DEN OF SAINTS Theatre Unleashed presents Jacob Smith's dark comedy about a Hollywood writer and an eccentric millionaire. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 849-4039.
GO MOM'S THE WORD Six mothers wrote these intertwined jokes and rants about parenting, and even those who haven't undergone birth themselves (a minority in the audience I was part of) feel sympathy pangs after Kimleigh Smith starts the show by screaming and pleading for the pain to go away. That agonizingly true opener arcs from "What have I done?" to "How couldn't I have done this?" Though the trajectory of the show is a vindication of motherhood, the five actors (all parents themselves) cathartically focus on the smelly, slimy, exhausting, self-denigrating, unsexy, paranoid and bewildering qualities motherhood elicits. This certainly isn't a Precious Moments valentine to parenting; happy moments are so rare, it's a small feat that director Jerry London makes the closing sufficiently upbeat that the parents in the house don't immediately make a dropoff at the nearest orphanage. In a nifty bit of casting, Smith, Gina Torrecilla, Becky Thyre and Cathy Schenkelberg are joined by real-life gay dad Hutchins Foster, who steps into an originally female role with just a few tweaks. This casual and enthusiastic evening is worth a babysitter for moms and dads who want to hear others speak the unspeakable. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through November 8. (818) 508-0281. (Amy Nicholson)
THE PRINCESS PLAYS Two fairy-tale comedies by Collen Neuman. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 22. (818) 508-3003.
REP*A*TROIS Three plays in rotating rep: Heroes by Gerard Sibleyras, Painting Churches by Tina Howe, and Boston Marriage by David Mamet. (Call for schedule.). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Nov. 7. (818) 700-4878.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET From its origins in 19th century fiction, to its numerous adaptations for stage and screen, this oft-revived tale of the Fleet Street barber who gives his customers the closest of shaves remains popular for its dark themes and, in Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning version, complex polyphonic sound. Sweeney Todd (Kurt Andrew Hansen), back in London after being sent to Australia by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Weston I. Nathanson), is both bent on revenge and in search of his wife Lucy (Harmony Goodman), who was raped by Turpin, and daughter Johanna (Jenny Ashman). He is aided first by the young sailor Anthony (Brian Maples), and then by pie-shop owner Mrs. Lovett (Donna Pieroni), who becomes his confidant and partner in their grisly scheme. Director Derek Charles Livingston cleverly uses the rhythms of the score to execute transitions between scenes, while August Viverito's set pieces are amazingly versatile and his lighting shifts, complex and well executed (especially the innovative "oven-effect"). Hansen, with his rich baritone and wild-eyed demeanor, is spot-on for Todd, and Pieroni is a solid Lovett (though I missed her traditional cockney twang), but Nathanson seems a bit mild-mannered for the slimy, malevolent Turpin. However, the main drawback to the production is that it really needs more space, which the often crowded stage and one-dimensional choreography made clear. Even the polyphonic sequences in the singing become muddied, which is surprising from a stellar company that normally astounds with its ability to maximize its cramped quarters. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.theprodco.com. (800) 838-3006.
TALES OF AN UNSETTLED CITY: EXODUS Fourth chapter of Theatre Unleashed's collection of late-night vignettes. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 10:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 20, www.theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
THAT PERFECT MOMENT Baby boomers get nostalgic for the '60s in Rick Sparks' comedy. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (323) 960-7745.
THAT PERFECT MOMENT What is it about rock & roll that makes it so stubbornly resistant to conventional dramatic representation? Perhaps it's that the rock metanarrative -- the collective absurdity of backstage misbehavior, egocentric pettiness and self-destructive excess that is somehow transcended in the artistry and catharsis of the live performance -- runs so close to self-parody that it can only be captured in documentary or satire (or both, i.e., This is Spinal Tap). Whatever the reason, playwrights Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper's warmed-over band-reunion dramedy misses the mark by an L.A. mile. When ponytailed, 60-something literature professor, Mark Vanowen (Tait Ruppert), hears that a label is interested in his former, never-signed, '60s protest band, The Weeds, for an oldies compilation, he promptly recalls his old bandmates to discuss reforming for a support tour. The problem is former drummer Skip (Bruce Katzman), now a prosperous Republican with a McMansion in Calabasas, who holds the song rights along with a vindictive grudge against Mark for jumping ship at the moment of The Weeds' almost-success. Complicating matters is Mark's wife, Sarah (Kelly Lester), who abruptly walks out after he chucks his department's chairmanship for a last stab at rock & roll glory. Though director Rick Sparks elicits spirited performances from a stellar cast (including Sha Na Na's Guerin Barry and the comically gifted John Bigham), neither Adam Flemming's sterile apartment set nor the play's atonal text musters the authenticity needed to make this production rock. (Bill Raden). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 8, www.plays411.com/perfect. (323) 960-7745.
WONDER OF THE WORLD Contemporary American farce has a hero in playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who skews old-fashioned 2-D absurdity by surreptitiously adding depth to initially shallow characters. Elizabeth Bond's brilliant, comi-tragic performance embodies Cass -- a wife who suddenly leaves her 7-year marriage after discovering a grotesque secret about her otherwise dull husband, Kip (Ian Vogt). She follows her list of adventures she wants to experience, which takes her to Niagra Falls, and a cast of oddballs, who slowly turn into a strange new family. Chief among these is Lois (Kimberly Van Luin) a drunken divorcée determined to end her life by riding a barrel over the falls. Director Neil Wilson skillfully attends to each new piece of foolishness, sustaining the intensity of performances even as the comedy cuts through. Of special interest is Jen Ray, who plays several absurd caricatures with conviction. Act 1 produces some of the most honest laughs this reviewer has experienced in years. The second act doesn't quite live up to the hilarity and emotional charge promised by the first, but at least it offers a satisfying conclusion -- and an obligatory adventure scene. The script demands several distinct settings, and designer Damon Fortier provides them with skill and wit. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through November 15. (818) 841-5422 or SeaGlasstheatre.org. A SeaGlass Theatre Company production. (Tom Provenzano)
THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT Ray Bradbury's fantastical comedy. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 14, www.plays411.com/raybradbury. (323) 960-4451.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
ALL CAKE, NO FILE Donna Jo Thorndale's Johnny Cash prison tribute cooking show., $15. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri., 9 p.m.; thru Nov. 27, www.wtffestival.com. (310) 838-4264.NEW REVIEW BEAU FIB
This musical, credited to playwright Miles Nye and composers John Graney and Andy Hentz, is steeped in the dramatic tradition of the Tragic Clown. And, really, there are few clowns more tragic than Christopher Young's Beau Fib, a sweet natured young hobo and pathological liar who's afflicted with some kind of amnesia when the play starts. Haunted by the sound of a distant jazz band, Master Fib commences a journey to figure out why he's inexplicably dressed in his best pair of shoes. Along the way, he is befriended by a young soldier (Scott Palmason), a jaded prostitute (Cat Davis) and a disenchanted drunkard preacher (Chris Sheets). After a run in with demonic anti-clown St. Clownie (Christopher Karbo, as a fiendish Bozo), the heroes are tricked by bizarre circumstance into descending to Hell to steal the little toe from the King of the Underworld himself (Mike Kindle). Before this can occur, Fib makes some appalling discoveries about himself. If for no other reason, Nye's musical is exceptional because of his use of the word "sardoodledom" (Google it) in the program notes. However, in terms of execution, the work is never able to evade the sense of being an early draft. The story drifts from idea to idea in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. The book (both dialogue and lyrics) is ponderous and dry, full of cerebral and academic puns that probably seemed drol and arch on the page, but which come off as dreary and pompous on the stage. Director Andy Goldblatt's intimate, halting production may gel later in the run, but I observed klutzy blocking and ill-timed pacing. That said, Young 's Fib is a likable young rascal. Sheets's growelly old priest is hilariously bitter and Davis's flaxen-haired hooker is simultaneously sleazy and innocent delight. Graney and Hentz's Tom Waits-like score possesses amiably folksy and ironic undercurrents that are occasionally soulful. Powerhouse Theater, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 21. http://latensemble.com An LA Theater Ensemble production. (Paul Birchall)
THE BROWNING VERSION Terence Rattigan's 1949 headmaster ritual. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Dec. 20, (No perfs Nov. 12, 26 & Dec. 10.). (310) 822-8392.
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.
DEAD GUILTY Richard Harris' suspense thriller. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (562) 494-1014.
GO THE DOCTOR DESPITE HIMSELF In Molière's farce, oafish woodcutter Sganarelle (Charles Fathy) takes a (rubber) mallet and beats his wife, Martine (Clara Bellar), like a dirty carpet, and why not? since she kind of likes it. However, this doesn't prevent Martine from spitefully telling a passing dolt (Brad Schmidt) that Sganarelle is a famous surgeon who enjoys being paid for his toils by receiving even more-savage beatings. The dolt beats Sganarelle like a brass gong and then hires him to cure his master's daughter (Raquel Brussolo) of muteness. Of course, it turns out that the girl is only pretending to be mute so she can trick her dullard dad (Steven Houska) and marry the handsome student (Brad Schmidt) she loves. More beatings ensue. The first thing you need to know, even before watching the play's casual thumpings, is that director Gulu Montiero's madcap production is steeped in the art of the clowning. The show has the wonderfully shrill pitch and frantic pace of a living cartoon. The cast know the way around the 17th-century gags -- and the goofiness is heightened by designer Swinda Reichelt's jaw-dropping costumes, which turn these classical characters into outlandish figures risen from some other dimension. In his leering turn as Sganarelle, Fathy's grinning mug floats in what appears to be a blubbering multicolored beach ball, and when he turns into "the doctor," he is fitted with a bizarre collar with dangling tassles your cats would adore. Sganarelle's spiteful wife wears a plastic-y swoop skirt covered with rubber balls -- and she then returns later as a sexy housemaid, wearing weird plastic blond braids and gigantic plaster breasts. The result of all this artistry is a production that is both timeless and yet cracklies with the freshness of a living children's picture book. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through November 8. (310) 823-0710. www.electriclodge.org. An Ipanema Theatre Troupe production. (Paul Birchall)
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE The Robert Louis Stevenson classic, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 8. (310) 364-0535.
ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION John Patrick Shanley's comedy about two lifelong friends. Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Dec. 6, (No perfs Nov. 27-29.). (310) 397-3244.
GO JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY Suffused with a near-Chekhovian mix of the wistful and the melancholy, playwright Henry Jaglom's world premiere comedy is a delight -- an intimate and thoughtful ensemble piece that is as much a paean to the theater as it is a meditation on the perils of living entirely by emotion. In a picturesque but rundown country house in Upstate New York (realized in Joel Daavid's beautiful, detailed set), a theatrical clan spends what is probably for them a typical fall weekend of histrionics and melodrama. These are people who have lived their whole lives for art -- which, one might say, means that dinner is never on time and no one gets up before noon. Elderly thespian George (Jack Heller) and his beloved wife, Vivien (Diane Louise Salinger), are in the twilight of their careers but regret nothing about a life spent on the road, performing small plays. Also staying in their home is their beautiful, unstable daughter Pandora (Tanna Frederick), who is taking a "rest" from acting after getting over a recent failed romance. The typically "artsy" family chaos turns even more tumultuous with the arrival of the family's estranged eldest daughter, Betsy (Julie Davis), who has grown weary of her eccentric family. When Betsy introduces her lawyer fiancé, Jimmy (David Garver), to the family, sparks unexpectedly fly -- but the sparks are between Jimmy and free-spirited Pandora. Some overwritten sequences teeter on self-indulgence, yet the piece is also wise to the follies of human behavior, and director Gary Imhoff's subtle staging elegantly juxtaposes the warmth and frustration that underscore the relationships within so many families. The ensemble work is sensitive yet comically charged, with Frederick's calculatedly daffy turn as the ever-performing Pandora smartly offset by Davis' increasingly angry Betsy. Heller's leonine elderly actor-dad and Salinger's actress mom, tender and sad, wonderfully craft the sense of elders who have never truly grown up, and are amazed by what has happened to their bodies while their minds remain youthful. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (dark Thanksgiving weekend); through December 20. (310) 392-7327. A Rainbow Theatre production. (Paul Birchall)NEW REVIEW GO NO MAN'S LAND
When Harold Pinter's drama was first produced at Britain's National Theatre in 1975, it was a star vehicle, offering virtuoso acting by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Now that the star glamour has worn off, it's possible to see the play more clearly. At times Pinter appears tso be imitating Pinter, bringing out all the familiar tropes. Nevertheless, the writing is rich and director Michael Peretzian gives it an elegant, well-acted production. Two elderly writers, Hirst (Lawrence Pressman) and Spooner (Alan Mandell) met by chance in a Hampstead pub, and Hirst has invited Spooner to his townhouse for a drink. At first, the two seem to be strangers, but gradually it emerges that they have been rivals--sexual and professional--since their days at Oxford. Hirst has won the success game, while Spooner lives in genteel poverty. Prosperity and alcohol have left Hirst semi-embalmed, while Spooner is very much alive, and angling for employment as Hirst's secretary-companion. But there are already two slightly menacing caretakers in place--Briggs (Jamie Donovan) and Foster (John Sloan). Their position is ambiguous: are they Hirst's employees or his captors? Mysteries and contradictions proliferate in an evening of perverse wit and skillful acting. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd.; West L.A.; schedule varie, call for information. (310) 477-2055 or http://odysseytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
THE VALUE OF NAMES Playwright Jeffrey Sweet's drama asks the provocative question "is it ever possible to forgive a wrong done to us decades ago?" The play's unexpected answer turns out to be a shocking "never!" Norma (Stasha Surdyke) is a young actress and the daughter of elderly TV star Benny Silverman (Peter Mark Richman), though the pair is estranged these days. Still, Norma stops by Benny's Malibu mansion to tell her father that she's just been cast in a new play in which not only is she going to show her breasts, she's also going to be directed by Benny's old enemy Leo (Malachi Throne). Back in the bad days, Leo sold out Benny to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and Benny, perhaps understandably, is still angry after all these years. Leo stops by the house in an attempt to win over his old buddy, but, as they say, old grudges are the best grudges and, within minutes, long buried wounds are disinterred. Sweet's drama-of-ideas is the sort in which a pair of figures, each symbolizing one side of an argument, debate until they're blue in the face and the audiences' ears are red. Although Sweet's writing suffers from afusty tone - and Howard Teichman's staid staging doesn't really tell us why these characters are willing to stay in the same room with each other, the crackling intelligence underlying the arguments is nevertheless frequently engrossing. Also hard to resist are the powerful performances, headlined by Thorne and Richman, a pair of veteran character actors whom you'll recognize from dozens of your favorite TV shows (at least, you will if you are a Baby Boomer). Watching these two frosty lions in winter essentially tearing into each other, as well as into the scenery, as they storm and bluster, makes for a thrilling evening on any terms, and Thorne's coolly pragmatic Lou and Richman's feisty, embittered Benny easily rise above the workmanlike material with which they're matched. (Paul Birchall). Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 22, www.wcjt.org. (323) 506-8024.
WTF?! FESTIVAL Singer/songwriter series, film talkback series, theater and dance series, and literature series, each curated by actor Tim Robbins. Complete schedule at www.wtffestival.com. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Tues.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8:30 p.m.; thru Dec. 19. (310) 838-4264.