Stage Raw: Summer Festivities
Open Fist Theater Company launches its annual Fist Look Festival this weekend, with The Existents, a rock musical by Douglas Crawford and Jason Wooten, music and lyrics by Ty Taylor. The entire festival consists of works by L.A. writers, also including Ron West, Anne Garcia-Romero, Joseph Fisher William Mesnik, Phillip William Brock, and Laura Richardson.
Meanwhile in Santa Monica, Highways continues its Behold: A Queer Performance Festival with Alex Davis, Chris Doggett, and a Queer Communion on Sunday, curated by Racquel Guttierez.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for July 30 - August 5, 2010
Our critics are Pauline Amadek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, 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
Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.
OPENING THIS WEEK
BONES World premiere of Dael Orlandersmith's play about a family secret. Note: "All seating will be on the stage amidst the characters.". Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Sat., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 1, 6:30 p.m.; Aug. 3-7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 8, 1 & 6:30 p.m.. (213) 628-2772.
BOYS' LIFE Howard Korder's 1988 battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; opens Aug. 5; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (818) 745-8527.
BURN Ingez Rameau's solo show about personal demons. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 15, burntheplay.com. (818) 506-0600.
ENTERTAINER'S EULOGY By Darian Dauchan. Part of the 2010 Whitefire Solofest. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs., Aug. 5, 8 p.m.. (818) 990-2324.
FAITH HEALER A "First Look" reading by Brian Friel, part of the Antaeus Company's fifth biennial ClassicsFest. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., July 31, 3 p.m.. (818) 506-1983.
THE GOOD BOOK OF PEDANTRY AND WONDER Moby Pomerance's witty story of a 19th-century editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; opens July 31; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (626) 683-6883.
GRIFFITH PARK SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL Free performances of Much Ado About Nothing by the Independent Shakespeare Co. Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr., L.A.; opens Aug. 5; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 913-4688.
HAMLET SHUT UP Shakespeare's tragedy, "without all that pesky dialogue.". Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens July 30; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 281-8337.
KARMA: THE MUSICAL "The '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s flash by as an older woman travels back in time to stop her younger self from making the stupid mistakes that have ruined her life," by Susan C. Hunter and Les Oreck. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; opens Aug. 5; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (323) 469-3113.
KATIE THE CURST The Actors' Gang's adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, a free summer show for all ages. Media Park, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; opens July 31; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Aug. 29, theactorsgang.com...
LES BLANCS Fully staged work-in-process by Lorraine Hansberry, part of the Antaeus Company's fifth biennial ClassicsFest. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Aug. 3-4, 8 p.m.. (818) 506-1983.
SHAKE Joshua Fardon's study of survival, told backwards in time from 2002 to 9/11. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; opens July 30; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (323) 856-8611.
STRING OF PEARLS Four actresses play 27 characters in Michele Lowe's drama. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 31; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (818) 700-4878.
SURF DOGS UNITE! Magnum Opus Theatre's latest mocking of an unsolicited screenplay. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens July 31; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Aug. 7. (310) 281-8337.
A TEACHABLE MOMENT Written by Nalsey Tinberg. Part of Theatre West Writers Workshop 2010 Summer Reading Series. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sun., Aug. 1, 7 p.m.. (323) 851-7977.
A WALK IN THE WOODS Lee Blessing's story of a U.S. nuclear arms negotiator and his cynical Soviet counterpart. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens July 30; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (818) 700-4878.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
GO BEYOND This musical extravaganza, conceived and directed by Aurelien Roulin, is described as a cross between French cabaret and Cirque du Soleil, but what it's really reminiscent of is the old Folies Bergére, or Las Vegas without the bared bosoms. Like the Folies, it features banks of stairs that the showgirls can saunter down in their minimal costumes, adorned with maximum feathers and glitz, and sometimes escorted by lads in loincloths. Also like the old French show, there's audience participation, in which two sheepish men from the audience are led onstage and decked out in preposterous drag. The show has 17 performers, six choreographers, a stilt-walker, a unicyclist, a bit of boogie-woogie, and exotic numbers evoking many nations: Japan, Africa, France and India, represented by "The Forbidden Temple," a Bollywood-style spectacle, choreographed by Kavita Rao. A mix of Edith Piaf songs is stylishly delivered by Ripley Rader, a couple of mildly erotic aerial sequences are performed by scantily clad Roulin and Sunny Soriano, and there's an impressive toe-dancing contortionist, Ganchimeg Oyunchimeg. But the greatest excitement is unleashed when the dancers cut loose, particularly in the frenzied cancan finale. In short, there's plenty of flash, flesh and fantasy, suitably toned down for a family audience. (Neal Weaver). El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru July 31. (818) 508-4200.
CINDERELLA Rodgers and Hammerstein's fairy-tale musical, starring Sally Struthers and Marcia Wallace. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (805) 449-2787.
HAMLET It's anyone's guess what vision might have guided director Ellen Geer's fervent but unfocused, Medieval-dress version of Shakespeare's most baroque and psychologically nuanced tragedy. There's certainly little hint of the Oedipal undercurrents or political allegorizing that have been a mainstay of 20th-century productions. Nor is there much sign of the paralyzing conflict between faith in purpose and intellectual certainty, which traditionally drives its hero's famously agonized inaction. In the case of Mike Peebler's Hamlet, neither his mission nor its justness ever seems in doubt; Peebler attacks the role with the zeal and righteous wrath of the recently converted. Even his soliloquies are delivered at the audience as if from a pulpit. Gertrude (Melora Marshall) in turn appears more pissed off at her son's increasingly antic disposition than aggrieved by what it might imply about his sanity. Claudius (Aaron Hendry), by contrast, comes off as positively good-natured, a guy caught with his hand in the cookie jar rather than his fingerprints all over a nefarious regicide. Willow Geer is convincing as a feisty yet vulnerable Ophelia, though even here the method of her madness seems more a response to the murder of Polonius (a very broad Carl Palmer) than any jilting by Hamlet. Director Geer keeps it all moving at a fast clip, but some exasperatingly eccentric blocking divides the focus of too many critical turning points -- most egregiously in the mousetrap scene -- all but obliterating their dramatic purpose. (Bill Raden). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., July 31, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 1, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 14, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 15, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 21, 4 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 28, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 5 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 2, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE Martin McDonagh's black comedy about a hard-boiled terrorist lured home by the news that his cat is in poor health. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (213) 628-2772.
LIFE COULD BE A DREAM Writer-director Roger Bean's doo-wop jukebox musical. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (949) 497-2787.
GO LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE Ilene Beckerman's book, on which Delia Ephron and Nora Ephron based their "intimate collection of stories," is the kind you'd grab from the display near the register at a Barnes and Nobles, to serve as a dressy envelope for a birthday check to your goddaughter or an upgraded Mother's Day card. But if the recipient read it instead of tossing in onto a pile of similarly gifted minibooks, she'd find a classy little number, a J. Peterman catalog minus the pretentiousness. With sparse text and barebones sketches, Beckerman records her history through the clothes she and her female relatives wore. Director Jenny Sullivan constructs the stage version in much the same way: The star-studded ensemble wears black (there's an ode to the color, every woman's old faithful) while sitting in a straight line; and Carol Kane, who reads as Beckerman, handles the main prop, a "closet" full of the book's renderings situated on wire clothes hangers. But this is Nora Ephron, and chumminess quickly trumps austerity. The scenes themselves are ruminations on relationships thinly veiled as (mostly) funny riffs on clothes -- Tracee Ellis Ross almost runs away with the show every time the spotlight's hers but particularly so with "The Shirt." Kane, who must be one of the most endearing actors ever, dances her monologues' transitions so delicately and adroitly you can only marvel. There are a couple of moments ("The Bathrobe," "Brides") during which all but those with a particularly voracious emotional appetite will find themselves choking on the syrup. Fortunately, though, the Ephron sisters have nimbly stitched together the scenes so that there's far more head nodding than eye rolling. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 208-5454.
MASTER CLASS Terrence McNally's story of opera diva Maria Callas. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sun., Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 22, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM In rep with Hamlet. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Thurs., Aug. 5, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 12, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 19, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 26, 8 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 8 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
NEW ORIGINAL WORKS FESTIVAL 2010 The seventh annual festival serves up all-new dance, theater, music and multimedia performance works. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7. (213) 237-2800.
GO OTHELLO Shakespeare must've been orchestrating from his grave: Three times during Independent Shakespeare Company's production of Othello in Griffith Park, a pack of coyotes burst into laughter. Fitting that nature should interject its opinion on that most futile of human emotions that motorizes the action of Shakespeare's tragedy. "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on ..." the kingpin Iago ironically warns Othello. Director Melissa Chalsma has elicited smart, sharp, funny interpretations from her cast, notably Cameron Knight, Andre Martin, David Melville and Bernadette Sullivan; and even with the distractions that accompany an outdoor performance (bring blankets and sweaters), the audience was rapt throughout. As Othello, Knight precisely navigates the slippery slope into paranoia, gradually unraveling until he becomes near-primal, the "black ram" Iago first described him as and now has led him to be. Melville, a charismatic villain, transforms physically as Iago, bounding confidently at Act 1 opens, only to become hunched and shuffling as if shackled by mid-play. Shakespeare proves to have been a cultural seer -- he set an African as commander-in-chief long before we even considered the idea -- commenting on interracial marriage ages before Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and promoting feminist ideology centuries before Gloria Steinem became a Playboy Bunny. Universal truths keep him relevant; here, it's how susceptible we are to doubt and how jealousy erects a steel coffin around the mind. The desire to exact justice after being provoked by senseless injustices keeps Shakespeare satisfying, despite the inevitable high body count that revenge can accrue. Here, justice is served by a woman choosing truth over matrimonial obedience, while the revenge is as misguided as it is pointless. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (818) 710-6306.
THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723.
GO THURGOOD There's much to recommend in George Stevens Jr.'s generic biodrama about the legendary African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, whose career as an NAACP attorney culminated in successfully arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that South Carolina's "separate but equal" defense of racial segregation was unconstitutional. The play, if one dares to call it that, is at its best during those trial scenes in which the event's only actor, Laurence Fishburne reprising his Broadway appearance, plays out scenes from the series of trials as both both Marshall and his opponent, John W. Davis. Unfortunately, this courtroom drama, which constitutes a fleeting if climactic segment of the piece, is the only drama. The rest is a lecture by Marshall at Howard University in which, for little apparent reason other than his acceptance of a lecture fee, he reflects on his life and career. Fishburne portrays him as both folksy and crusty, with nice physical detail as the man ages, but this is all a bit like Hal Holbrook portraying Mark Twain: completely dependent on wit, whimsy and legend, while bypassing so much of the human being underneath. He refers to his difficult character, but that darker side has no reason or context to show itself, and that would be a show. What we get is a full dose of Marshall's courage and rectitude, in which we're "challenged" to submit to his thesis that segregation, lynchings and bigotry in general are really bad things, and that they're not even constitutional. Okay, I'll keep that in mind. What saves Leonard Foglia's production from tedium is the history lesson itself, how in economic downturns we, like most countries, turn on the spigot of racial hatred, which spews over so many laws that have tried to contain it. Elaine J. McCarthy's projection designs are a cinematic yet effective way to bring the last century into our laps. It's an oddity but true here that an idea for a play can be more powerful than the play itself. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 208-5454.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE Music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin, conceived by Rebecca Feldman. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 14. (858) 481-2155.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUTATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
THE ARMANDO SHOW A different comic/celeb each week provides the springboard for improv madness., $10. I.O. West, 6366 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 9 p.m.. (323) 962-7560.
BETTER DAYS Whitmore Eclectic presents Richard Dresser's unemployment comedy. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, whitmoreeclectic.com. (818) 826-3609.
BOB BAKER'S CIRCUS Marionette extravaganza, first introduced at this very theater in 1961. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Sept. 26, bobbakermarionettes.com. (213) 250-9995.
BONNIE IN BRIGHTON One-woman show about a Texas girl in a British seaside town, starring Erin Parks. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (323) 962-1632.
If the name Gertrude Stein isn't enough of a clue to not expect your average, well-made play, just walk into the seventh floor, downtown-penthouse performance space of this mesmerizing production by CalArts' Center for New Performance and L.A. stage experimentalists, Poor Dog Group. That's where Jesse Bonnell, John Kern and Jeffrey Elias Teeter's video projections of the surrounding cityscape create the uncanny effect that Efren Delgadillo Jr.'s combat-detritus set is perched high upon a vertiginous, open-air promontory. Such lofty, if illusory, heights provide an apt metaphor for the elevated discourse of Stein's lucidly conversational, postwar novella and its all-too-prophetic admonition against the political and intellectual conformity awaiting America's returning WWII GIs. Set during the limbo period between the end of the war and demobilization, director Travis Preston and writers Marissa Chibas and Erik Ehn's elegant adaptation follows the fears, gripes, prejudices and dreams of Stein's archetypal cross section of soldiers and military nurses as they pass the time fraternizing and musing about their uncertain futures. Brewsie (Jonney Ahmanson), a thoughtful sergeant "foggy in the head" but who wants "to be clear," provokes a probing dialogue with his fellow dogface, the voluble Willie (a dynamic Brad Culver), which soon includes their less reflective comrades. As the inarticulate men and women struggle to find words for their thoughts, Stein's apprehensions about parallels between the regimented thinking demanded by the Nazi's military-industrialism and those invited by our own consumer-industrial society are gradually given voice. Preston's vibrantly inventive direction of a first-rate ensemble, plus some additional, authentic ambience provided by circling LAPD helicopters, together suggest that any similarity between Stein's fears and the straits in which we find ourselves today is strictly intentional. 7th Floor Penthouse, 533 S. Los Angeles St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 1, brownpapertickets.com. A CalArts' Center for New Performance in association with Poor Dog Group production. (Bill Raden)
GO BROOKLY, USA This crime melodrama by John Bright and Asa Bordages, who wrote many of the classic Warner Bros. gangster flicks, was first produced on Broadway in 1941. Today, it seems like a time capsule of Brooklyn, and of America in the 1940s, and this feeling is further enhanced by the wonderful period props. True to its time, the play has a huge cast and a leisurely pace as it tells the tale of a mob led by Albert Anastasia (Johnny Crear). But the action centers on hired killer Smiley Manone (Rico Simonini, looking startlingly like a young Jimmy Smits), his naive hooker girlfriend (Danitha Bockoven), who explains plaintively, "I'm not a hustler, I'm a lady of joy." Shelly Kurtz is impressive as Louie, a Jewish barber who's lured into the mob action by Anastasia's promise to get his parents out of Nazi Germany. Elisabeth Noone scores as the tough, bighearted proprietress of the neighborhood candy store. There's fine support from a large cast, including Johnny Williams as a portly hit man, Will Beinbrink as a union organizer murdered by the mob, and Adriana Demeo as his girlfriend. Director T.J. Castronovo evokes the style of the old gangster films, and meticulously preserves the period flavor, assisted by Thomas Brown's detailed sets and Sherry Coon's costumes. (Neal Weaver). Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (323) 469-3113.
CIRCLE OF WILL William Shakespeare wrote his greatest works before 1608 -- so what was he ruminating on in 1610? Directed by Brian Herskowitz, writers Bill Cakmis and Jack Grapes' scenario imagines a contentious exchange between the Bard (Grapes) and his friend and leading man, Richard Burbage (Joe Briggs). A stumbling attempt at satire, the piece portrays Shakespeare as a lesser literary light and Burbage as a cretinous narcissist, fed up with dramas about death and threatening to walk unless he gets to be a hero in a play with a positive ending. The problem lies not in the lampoon of the theater but in the script itself, which strives for laughs by utilizing misquotes and scrambled references to various Shakespearean plays and characters. Done well, this device would work brilliantly; here, lacking conceptual underpinnings and continuity, it falls flat. Midway through, the actors acknowledge they're on stage and break the fourth wall, appealing to the audience to help resolve their existential dilemma and hasten the comedy to a conclusion. At that point (if not before) shades of Shakespeare for Middle School begin to infiltrate the evening. As to the performances, Grapes is likable, while Briggs' evident gift for larger-than-life burlesque deserves better material. Designers Martin C. Vallejo's set and Anasuya Engel's costumes add period flavor. (Deborah Klugman). Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 15, www.plays411.com/circleofwill. (323) 960-7822.
GO DRUNK TALK Welcome to McSwiggins. For the motley assortment of career barflies, neighborhood hotheads, Walmart Casanovas and lovelorn alcoholics who make it their home away from home, the old-school Hollywood watering hole is the kind of place where everybody knows your name (or soon will, though you'll probably regret it long before last call). Playwright Lance Whinery's irresistibly goofy, one-act parody of the hallowed saloon sitcom takes the form into the kind of seedy, low-rent dramatic neighborhood where the denizens of Cheers were never drunk enough to tread. Its intentionally insipid plot, cliché-ridden characters and wincingly corny one-liners are frighteningly familiar. And in Thomas Blake's environmental staging, where the audience has ostensibly joined the regulars to toast the beloved bar's final night in business, the manner in which the actors shamelessly cheat their punch lines toward the spectators creates the impression of being a captive member of a live TV-studio audience. Then the other shoe drops: As the story and the drinking progress, and the characters' alcohol-fueled belligerence morphs into an increasingly maudlin and effusive bonhomie, Blake unleashes his cast of expert ad libbers and insult comics (standouts include David Alfano, Tobias Jelinek and Kim Estes) into the audience to harass and humiliate. But there won't be any hard feelings -- because in true sitcom logic any conflicts that erupt or are miraculously resolved will be mercifully nullified in the amnesiac haze of the morning's hangover. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, brownpapertickets.com/event/111874. (910) 367-6735. (Bill Raden). Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, brownpapertickets.com/event/111874. (910) 367-6735.
ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 22, plays411.com/elevator. (323) 960-7787.
FABRIC On August 2, 1995, federal authorities raided a sweatshop in EL Monte, where 72 Thai garment workers, mostly young women, were being held captive. Lured to this country under false pretenses, they lived as many as 12 to a room, laboring 17 hours a day for $300 a month. Commendable as a vehicle of instruction, playwright Henry Ong's heavy-handed docudrama chronologically depicts their recruitment, onerous captivity, rescue, and the trial and conviction of their employer, another Thai national whom the workers dutifully addressed as Auntie Suni (Dian Kobayashi). The drama adds fuel to our moral outrage when the question of what to do with the rescued illegals becomes an issue, with prominent government officials callously supporting their deportation. Devoid of nuance, the script's villains materialize as stark caricatures, especially the pivotal Auntie, who could easily give Snow White's stepmother a run for her money. From an artistic standpoint the production is saved by the performances of Jennifer Chang, Jully Lee and Jolene Kim as three of the trapped women; each relays her character's story with sensitive and compelling grace. Diana Toshiko in multiple roles and Ben Wang as a labor commissioner who takes action at last are also worth mentioning. Designer Luis Delgado's sweatshop set is appropriately dreary; Pia Smith's costumes add color. Marlene Forte and Tchia Casselle co-direct. (Deborah Klugman). Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (866) 811-4111.
First Look Festival of New Plays Schedule at openfist.org. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Sept. 18. (323) 882-6912.
FACEBOOK $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Wed., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
GO THE GIRL WHO WOULD BE KING Better to die a man than be born a woman -- even a princess. Inspired by Mark Twain's short story about a girl raised as a boy in order to claim the crown, Jan O'Connor's brisk comedy embraces the sexism of its setting to great effect. Manhood means never apologizing, commands the Duke of Lesser Flugel (Warren Davis) to his daughter Basil (Riley Rose Critchlow), as he stuffs socks down her trousers. But if men are rocks, women are water, appearing to yield to their betters while impressing their will through patience and subtlety. When Basil is sent to his uncle King Heimlich's (Ross Gottstein) court as the rightful male heir, s/he's smashed by the wiles of the very femme Princess Clotilda (Whitton Frank), who with her nimbus of red curls is as ripe and soft as a tomato. The cast and casting are spot-on, as is Richard Tatum's direction, which allows us to peek at the layers underneath this superficially simple society. In less detailed hands, it'd simply be a funny, feminist trifle, but while Tatum plays up the humor, he also grasps the pathos in a tomboy forced to shun her own biology and to see her mother (Adriana Bate) as a cowed creature she deigns to visit every six years. Presented by Absolute Theatre and Full Circle Theatrics. (Amy Nicholson). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1 (323) 230-7261.
GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTURE All-new sketch and improv, directed by Damon Jones. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (323) 934-9700.
THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW April Hava Shenkman hosts this anything-goes comedy cabaret., free. El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.. (323) 668-0318.
HELLO OUT THERE and THE DUSTBOWL REVIVA: AN EVENIN GOF THEATER AND MUSIC William Saroyan's Hello Out There with music from The Dustbowl Revival. Bar Lubitsch, 7702 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Mon., Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 4. (323) 654-1234.
I'M NOT HERE ANYMORE W. Colin McKay has cast his play in the form of a mystery. Josh (Dayton Knoll) is a former GI who has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffers from combat trauma upon his return home. He has frightening flashbacks, which can drive him to violence, and he's haunted by two people (or are they hallucinations?) from his time in the Gulf. Kim (Casey Fitzgerald) is a girl who was killed by a roadside bomb, and Eddie (Sal Landi) is his former buddy, whom he believes aims to kill him if he reveals dark secrets about his time in the combat zone. There are also two doctors, Mel (Brian Connors) and David (Dig Wayne), who are at odds about Josh's treatment. But there are too many mysteries, and too few reliable "facts" for us to know precisely what's going on. Josh is clearly an unreliable narrator, the two ghosts/hallucinations have agendas of their own, and so perhaps do the doctors. We can never be certain whether Josh is dogged by psychotic fantasies, or telling uncomfortable truths the army wants to keep under wraps by committing him to a mental hospital. Good work from the actors and director Al Bonadies, but the script is perplexing. (Neal Weaver). Pan Andreas Theater, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. 323-468-8062.
JEWTOPIA Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson's story of two single men: a gentile obsessed with dating Jewish women and a Jew obsessed with dating gentile girls. Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (323) 655-7679.
KEEP IT CLEAN Comedy hosted by JC Coccoli., free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.
KILL YOUR TELEVISION Jeff Gardner's dialogue-free solo comedy. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., July 31, 6:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 14, 6 p.m., brownpapertickets.com/event/119084. (800) 838-3006.
NEW REVIEW LADY LANCING, OR, THE IMORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
The Ark Theater Company's fetching idea of staging Oscar Wilde's farce has, at its core, the original, unrevised script and four-act format. The addition of a minor character and some name changes do little to alter the story or to temper the fun. It's the rough edges of this production that keep that fun at bay. The play is, after all, a gentle comedy with farcical overtones. Here, the tone and pace turn those gentle qualities into a kind of sedative, under the ultralight touch of co-directors Douglas Leal and Derek Livingston. Notwithstanding some glaring instances of flubbed lines (a contagion that spread throughout the cast with the consequence of seeming to dull Wilde's otherwise pointed wit), Kenn Johnson and Leal acquit themselves well in the roles of Jack and Algernon, the two puffed-up dandies whose name-swapping high jinks and romantic foibles lie at the play's heart. JoAnna Jocelyn infuses the requisite imperious dignity and stuffiness to her role of Lady Brancaster, while Anna Quirino and Caroline Sharp are quite good as Jack and Algernon's love interests, despite Sharp's wobbly British accent. Osa Danam's costumes are beautifully understated, and Christina Silvioso's painted backdrops add a visual comic touch. Ark Theater Company at The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m., through August 15. (323) 969-1707. (Lovell Estell III)
LIVE NUDE BECKETT Live Nude Beckett A collection of works by existentialist Samuel Beckett, performed in the nude. Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Second Floor, L.A.; Sat., 9:45 p.m.; thru Aug. 21. (917) 340-5895 or (818) 720-9651.
LOS ANGELYNE Katherine Saltzberg's one-woman show about L.A. billboard icon Angelyne. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 19, brownpapertickets.com/event/119092. (800) 838-3006.
THE LOST TOMB OF KING SUNDAY Karen Maruyama directs the Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare's problem play. The Space, 665 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 8, coeuragetheatre.com/rsvp/...
MARY LYNN SPREADS HER LEGS Writer-performer Mary Lynn Rajskub cruises the low road in this raunchy obstreperous one-woman show about childbirth and motherhood, directed and developed by Amit Ittelman. Adopting a pugnacious in-your-face persona at the top, the performer first describes -- then graphically illustrates -- how she abandoned her intellectual self to metamorphose into a fun-loving hottie. An unexpected pregnancy alters her life -- though not her smug irreverence leveled nonstop at doctors, midwives, family members, producers and fans (all of whom she portrays). When her colicky child (also depicted by Rajskub) refuses her milk, she's filled with fantasies of infanticide. Straddling standup, Rajskub's performance contains a humor that hits home with a strata of her audience, while irritating or offending others. Her skills are without question: the expressiveness of her body language or the split-second changes in countenance convey a shift from one character to the next. Notwithstanding these qualities and some entertaining moments, there's not much that's witty or insightful or ribald about this material. It would be helpful if there were some likable character or sentiment to counterbalance the story's bitter, hollow message. (Deborah Klugman)., $20. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (323) 666-4268.
MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru July 30, plays411.com/mother. (323) 960-7714.
MY PENIS: IN AND OUT OF TROUBLE Antonio Sacre's solo performance piece. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 5, brownpapertickets.com/event/118963. (800) 838-3006.
THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP Charles Ludlam's satire of everything from Hitchcock to horror. SPACE916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-1304.
NEW REVIEW NOT ABOUT HEROES
GO OPUS Because classical music can be such a sublime art form, one tends to regard those musicians as inhabiting a more celestial sphere than the rest of us. Playwright and classically trained violist Michael Hollinger confutes that notion with this percipient drama, which examines the political and emotional fracas within a string quartet. In Hollinger's canny script, the tensions generated among members of a prominent musical group have been exacerbated by an affair between two of them: Elliot (Christian Lebano), a domineering egotist with little tolerance for opposition; and Dorian (Daniel Blinkoff), a supersensitive artist with a history of emotional problems. When Dorian up and quits prior to a prestigious gig at the White House, he is replaced by Grace (Jia Doughman), a conscientious novice with tremendous talent and the inner aplomb to withstand Elliot's needling and increasingly truculent demands. Directed by Simon Levy, the drama begins with a studied manner before launching into full dynamism, as the particulars of the players' dilemmas and entanglements come into focus. In a solid ensemble, Doughman is noteworthy for her character's impeccable truth; likewise Cooper Thornton is highly effective as Alan, the down-to-earth second violinist who reacts with growing consternation and dismay to snowballing events. The performers mime their concerts in admirable sync (sound design is by Peter Bayne, with input from musical advisers Roy Tanabe and Larry Sonderling). Complemented by designer Ken Booth's lighting, Frederica Nascimento's backdrop, with its cubes in autumnal colors, seems reflective of the quartet's rich but cloistered world. (Deborah Klugman). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 663-1525.
GO PHIL THE VOID: THE GREAT BRAIN ROBBERY With his full, finely trimmed beard and unknotted bow tie, Phil van Hest looks like the best man at a wedding of ichthyologists. He knows he looks smart and works to discredit himself first in an opening story about himself, a beer, a joint and a bra slingshot; and second, by revealing the reason he's certain he's dumb: the Internet. At age 31, he's of the perfect age to grasp Life 2.0's impact -- he's old enough to remember memorizing phone numbers and young enough to feel pressured to keep up with 4-chan memes. "I do not laugh out loud as often as I claim to," he intones in a Hamlet pose, and to make his case that outsourcing our minds to Google will drive us all mad, he draws upon rhesus monkeys, Vietnam tortures and Theseus. Directed by David Fofi, van Hest delivers his sermon like a first-rate street preacher -- he knows when to let his doomsaying loom over our heads and when to pop the tension with a joke. A leap to Alan Greenspan and his school of evil fools allows van Hest to glom his case to the idea that the entire modern world's gone to rubbish. In his epilogue, he announces his plan to launch a commune in the Bay Area -- and by then, we're swayed to come with. (Amy Nicholson). Elephant Theatre Lab, 1078 Lilian Way, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7, philvanhest.com. (866) 811-4111.
GO PLAY DATES Relationships would ride so much more smoothly if the elementary survey Will You Be My Girlfriend? Check "Yes" or "No," could be given/taken before every action. Do you want me to take out the trash right this minute? Will you be passive-aggressive if I have a quick drink with my friend, the one you hate? Do you have any intention of marrying and having children with me? The trick, of course, is answering honestly and earnestly, and not pouting like a kindergartener. In three short acts strung discreetly together, playwright Sam Wolfson takes a crack at love and relationships. The first, "Boy Meets Girl," is the sharpest of the trio. In their 48-hour romance, Stacey and Sam (Elizabeth Bond and a nicely understated Rob Nagle) connect over chitchat on the playground. "I'm a day trader," Sam says -- "in the lunchroom: Snowballs, Star Crunches -- desserts, mostly." The second act, "Dr. Love," is the weakest, mostly due to the now exhausted smart/shock-culture of both Dr. Drew and Howard Stern, on whom the title character seems to be based. Fortunately, it's short. Though the third, "Honeymoon Period," is a little too precious, if you've ever been long-coupled, the bedtime ritual that opens the act will be embarrassingly, hilariously familiar. "We were performing a scene from Gorillas in the Mist!" a horrified Katie (Kristin Lee Kelly) exclaims. Wolfson's dialogue is on par with the best sketch and sitcom writing, which means plenty of cozy pop culture references cushioning a Big Lesson. When the subject's love, no matter how much the ending resembles an episode of Friends, most audiences will relate. Kurt Boetcher's efficient set deserves mention, a very funny Brian Monahan rounds out the cast, and Jennifer Chambers directs. Green Beetle Productions. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1, plays411.com. (323) 960-7776.
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.
REDHEAD CUBAN HAUSFRAU HUSBAND Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were pioneer celebrities who set the standard for clean, white-bread television comedy. They also were one of Hollywood's original power couples amassing a fortune from ownership of their own studios. But in his self-described musical homage to the I Love Lucy show, writer-director Fletcher Rhoden falls short of telling their story or of telling any story that's the least bit compelling. The herky-jerky script contains no semblance of narrative cohesiveness or flow, though it comes spiced here and there with historic details about Ms. Ball's life. Performer Joan Elizabeth Kennedy fails to channel Lucy convincingly, and is consistent only in singing off-key. Ditto for Derek Rubiano, whose Cuban accent wobbles in a remedial performance. Rhoden's music and lyrics are competent though without a hint of any Latin-American origins or influence in the music. Rhoden's direction does little to shore up the holes in his script. Jodi Skeris and Michael Anthony Nozzi are presumably standing in for other actors as the zany neighbors, but that's hard to tell from the program. (Lovell Estell III). Mount Hollywood Theater, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-9113.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SOMETIMES . . . LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Sun., 6, 7:30 & 9 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 769-5566.
SHUT YOUR STUPID FACE AND OTHER SUGGESTIONS Dean Donofrio's slice-of-life stories. The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (323) 960-7712.
STREEP TEASE: AN EVENING OF MERYL STREEP MONOLOGUES Performed by an All-Male Cast Re-interpretations of the actress' most iconic scenes. BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 653-6886.
GO T-O-T-A-L-L-Y In Kimleigh Smith's one-person show, she portrays herself as a 17-year-old virgin, an ingratiating cheer-leader who speaks in Valley-girl cadences where every sentence is peppered with "totally." She endures a gang rape and the eventual recovery of her sexuality that got shut down after the attack. This is the formula for what could have been the worst one-woman show ever seen; it's actually among the best, thanks entirely to Smith's super-human vivacity, her blistering sense of humor, in which, with considerable physical heft, she performs those ridiculous high school cheers in a teensy, revealing skirt with a mania that crosses deep into mockery. She is without shame, and she's earned that right. There's not a trace of self-pity; rather, super-hero determination. And when she details her technique for seducing a lover, the result is one of the most erotic and funny scenes you're going to find on any stage, anywhere. Paula Killen directs, and obviously knows exactly what she's doing. (Steven Leigh Morris). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., July 31, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 1, 7 p.m.. (323) 952-1632.
THEY CALL ME MR. FRY Jack Freiberger's recollection of his job as a South-Central schoolteacher. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., July 31, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 7, 3 p.m.. (323) 962-1632.
NEW REVIEW THREE SISTERS AFTER CHEKHOV
Adapted from Chekhov's classic, Trinidadian playwright Mustapha Matura's multi-storied melodrama tracks the wavering fortunes of three sisters living in 1941 colonial Port of Spain. The action -- colorfully inlaid with Caribbean culture and language -- transpires in their multihued, middle-class apartment overlooking the city's main drag. Alma (understudy Elayn Taylor), a spinster in her 40s, serves as the family's matriarch, while 30-something Helen (Yvonne Huff), trapped in an unhappy marriage, has fallen hard for a gallant British officer (Douglas Dickerman). The youngest, Audrey (a lively and appealing Diarra Kilpatrick), cherishes buoyant dreams -- soon to be shattered by the shadow of war in Europe and local unrest among the island's poor, arising from water shortages, skyrocketing prices and government corruption. Meanwhile, trouble ferments within the family when the sisters' doted-upon brother Peter (Terence Colby Clemens) becomes enamored of a sexy manipulative social climber named Jean (Nadege August). The play gathers speed as romantic entanglements intensify and the motifs of war, manhood, personal integrity and freedom from colonial rule shift to the fore. Director Gregg T. Daniel displays a deft hand, but the performances are something of a patchwork, with certain characters far more vividly drawn than others. In addition to Kilpatrick's endearing Audrey, the evening I attended featured understudy Jeorge Watson, injecting a welcome dynamic as Helen's implicitly unscrupulous and predatory spouse. Designer Shaun Motley's shabby chic interior works well, but the set's hand-painted blue backdrop lacks the very dimensionality it's supposed to suggest. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through Aug. 8, lowerdepththeatreensemble.org. (800) 838-3006. A Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble production. (Deborah Klugman)
[title of show] "Musical about making a musical." Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen, book by Hunter Bell. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (323) 957-1884. See Theater feature.
GO TRACERS Thirty years after its Los Angeles debut, writer John DiFusco's antiwar drama retains its relevance and power. Written collaboratively in the 1970s by DiFusco and seven other Vietnam vets, and directed by Christina Howard with insight and skill, it portrays the trauma of young military recruits plucked from mainstream American life and thust -- inadequately trained and poorly equipped -- into the nightmare of combat. Howard, displaying a metaphysical perspective, stages the production on a deep, cavernous proscenium. Prior to curtain, an intense, almost suffocating, scent of incense permeates the theater; meanwhile, for perhaps 20 minutes, the six "trainees" jog in military unison, the rhythms of their booted tread being ominous and haunting. When at last the performers do, individually, speak, it's in a darkness resourcefully illuminated by handheld flashlights; indeed, throughout the play, the lighting design (consultant Tiger Reel) registers as a quintessential element of the spectacle. The talents of Howard's adept ensemble collectively emerge in a sequence depicting the recruits' initial training under the command of an abusive drill sergeant (the terrific Tucker Smallwood), who addresses them as "maggots" while forcing them to undergo arbitrary punitive discipline. Once in Vietnam, the men medicate their brutalized psyches with dope, alcohol and infantile horseplay -- understandable given their tasks, which include sorting through body parts to try to match limbs with torsos. While not every component of this production is unimpeachable -- the sound design (Howard) and vocal sound track, effective in part, can be intrusive -- the imaginative production is compelling. (Deborah Klugman). L.A. Fringe Theatre, 929 E. Second St., Studio 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 14. (213) 680-0392.
WAITING FOR GODOT Revelation Theater presents Samuel Beckett's existentialist classic. The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31, theblackboxtheater.org...
THE WASTE LAND Filament Theatre Co. presents a workshop performance of the T. S. Eliot poem. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., July 31, 10 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 7, 8 p.m.. (800) 838-3006.
WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? Maria Bamford and Melinda Hill bring excellent standups every week -- really, like Blaine Capatch, Patton Oswalt, Matt Besser -- you get the idea., free. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.. (323) 466-9917.
WHEN IT RAINS GASOLINE Jason D. Martin's adolescence drama. With Stephen Belber's Tape. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 7. (323) 769-5566.
GO YELLOW Del Shores' family comedy-drama studies, once more, the mores and traditions of the Deep South, perhaps the country's most extreme forms of religiosity and homophobia, which have been haunting the playwright for all these years. How does one get out alive, with the curses of the underworld hanging over a believer: change or be changed? Does one run to New York City, or San Francisco or West Hollywood? Lead a double life? Become a playwright? Yellow is neither tragedy nor soap opera; its "disease-of-the-week" dimension surges between the two along a riptide of sentimentality. That said, Yellow is a rippingly entertaining show, thanks largely to Shores' precision-bombing satire of self-absorbed teenagers and drama clubs. (Steven Leigh Morris). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; www.yellowbydelshores.com; thru Sept. 5.
ZOMBIENCE! "An Improvised Zombie Musical," directed by Patrick Bristow. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru July 30, brownpapertickets.com/event/102759. (800) 838-3006.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUTAED IN THE VALLEYS
AMADEUS Written as Theophilus (from the Greek) on his birth certificate, Mozart's middle name can be interpreted as either "lover of God" or "loved by God." Antonio Salieri clearly believed the latter, and his jealousy of Mozart fuels the drama in Peter Shaffer's 1979 award-winning play. As court composer, Salieri (Peter Swander) has the favor of Emperor Joseph II (David Robert May) and admires Mozart's music -- until he meets the young prodigy. Mozart's (Patrick Stafford) sexuality and vulgarity drive the devout Catholic wild, and as Salieri can't reconcile the philistine with the ethereal music he creates, he becomes determined to destroy Mozart. In that quest, Swander often speaks of passion, yet it rarely feels as if his character possesses the passion his words suggest. Part of this may have been director August Viverito's desire for a slow build, even though it does eventually pay off in Act 2. Stafford's Mozart, on the contrary, is id perfectly personified, with occasional glimpses of the genius hiding behind the schoolboy pranks. Danielle Doyen, who plays his wife, Constanze, pairs well with Stafford, and like the rest of the cast, is capable. However, her 1980s, Madonna-style outfits, along with Mozart's gold pants and the emperor's raspberry zoot suit, are questionable choices by designer Shon LeBlanc. While for Salieri "a note of music is either right or it's wrong," for me the show had a pleasant melody but not one that stuck with me for long. (Mayank Keshaviah). Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (800) 838-3006.
GO ARCADIA When sophisticated, rapid-fire dialogue is whizzing about the stage, mathematical and scientific principles are being dissected in the language of those who dissect them professionally, and the past is bleeding into the present, the question is not if, but when, your head will start to spin. Set in an English estate in both 1809 and present day, Tom Stoppard's exploration of the seeming dichotomies of chaos and order, science and art, head and heart, might err on the side of the cerebral -- thrillingly yet too bewilderingly -- if it weren't so ripe with the great equalizers: humor and sex. Director Barbara Schofield notes that the play's themes are all based on passion, and her staging arches its back toward reflecting such. Just as you begin to follow one of Stoppard's intricate, essential arguments down the intellectual rabbit hole, Schofield yanks you back by the gut. The logical Valentine (Paul Romero) casually posits the supremacy of science to Bernard (a combustible Benjamin Burdick), who preaches poetry in response; the scene immediately following, between T.J. Marchbank's smoldering Septimus and Kendra Chell's commanding Lady Croom, so pulses with lust restrained by the thinnest of threads, that when Septimus burns a letter, you feel helpless to stem the flush spreading throughout your own body. The cast is uniformly good, though the frequent shouting matches repeatedly reach a decibel level that quickly overwhelms such an intimate theater. Regardless that they skip so nimbly through the fascinating maze Stoppard's constructed is a relief, and reason enough to go. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (626) 256-3809.
NEW REVIEW THE BAKER'S OVEN
The softly Southern lilt of the imploring, impassioned pastor's voice sermonizing on patriotism playing as preshow background music is the red flag. Well, that, juxtaposed with the jarring opening scene, in which a dark electro-rave song slaps the audience while a little girl spanks her knockoff Barbie doll until its legs fly off. Anachronistic, that toy, considering the play's setting is the Great Depression, and Mattel didn't launch Barbie dolls until the late '50s. But in light of the lurid action that follows, that's a negligible quibble. As playwright Christopher Goodwin unleashes one monstrous act of human nature after yet another, you almost laugh at the utter absurdity of the plot and its evil mastermind, the charred-and-shriveled-hearted Roy Baker (Jim Eshom); and you begin to wonder if Goodwin's a 21-year-old theater major who (mis)read Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho too many times before writing and mounting his first play in the college's "experimental" theatre. He's not. And though theater majors might congregate at a coffee shop afterward to discuss the symbolism of such unnecessary blanket violence (the U.S.'s history of military invasions seems a likely and politically correct response) and sexual abuse (organized religion, ditto), searching for meaning in this quasi-Greek tragedy of a play is as fruitless and confusing as its ludicrous final scene. Lila Green directs. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; through August 7. (818) 202-4120 (Rebecca Haithcoat)
FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF Ntozake Shange's 1975 choreopoem. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 7, plays411.com/forcoloredgirls. (818) 990-2324.
THE GOLDEN AURORA Steve Fechter's story of love between a man and man's best friend. Alliance Repertory Company, 3204 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (818) 284-6799.
HURRICANE SEASON 2010 Seventh annual competition/festival of short plays. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 22. (818) 508-3003.
IN & OUT: THE U.S. OF ALIENATION World premiere of David Wally's dramedy about human connection. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 14. (866) 811-4111.
INSIDE PRIVATE LIVES Peek into the private lives of public personas in Kristin Stone Entertainment's interactive theater piece. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. (866) 811-4111.
IT'S JUST SEX Gould's comedy takes the underpinnings of sexual fantasy, fidelity and money and puts all of those nuances onstage in a contemporary comedy about three married couples. The wife-swapping plot is straight out of Hugh Hefner's pad, circa 1975. That the play resonates today, in the ashes of the sexual revolution, is one indication of how little has changed, despite how much has changed. (Steven Leigh Morris). Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (818) 762-2272.
GO KING LEAR The old loon hasn't looked so good in some time. Bart DeLorenzo's staging for Antaeus Company's Classicsfest 2010 comes with two casts -- "The Fools" and "The Madmen." I saw the "The Madmen" and must reserve comment on the uberconcept until checking out "The Fools" this coming week. No need to reserve any enthusiasm for Harry Groener's Lear. Though his silver beard still doesn't help Groener look a stitch younger than 60 (Lear is supposed to be 80-plus), his gives a magnetic interpretation filled with surprises. But first, he renders the words sparklingly, with clarity and sensitivity. When his Fool (JD Cullum, also great -- nimble and smart without being a smart-ass) grills with his riddles, Groener's Lear listens and responds with a childlike innocence that is a cloak for growing despondency. And it's that sojourn toward spiritual oblivion that Groener carves with such intrigue, step by step, with alternate bursts of rage and defeat. He's magnificent and ably matched by Allegra Fulton's richly textured Goneril, who conjures memories of Estelle Parsons, mingled with the late, local actress Pamela Gordon. Gregory Itzin's Kent is grand, as is Nick Cagle's Oswald. Less so some of the supporting players, who render comparatively callow and shallow renditions compared to the masters at the helm. DeLorenzo stages a modernist interpretation that starts with Napoleanic military chic (costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg) -- all those boots stretching up to the thigh! -- and evolves to contemporary desert warfare attire. No, this is not an imposition or a gimmick. It fits snugly into the play's expedition into the surreal, in a work about aging and senility, the blessings and curses of time. DeLorenzo's staging suggests that what is unfolding is the history of our times, through ellipses of power and its abuses. He's on firm terra ether. (Steven Leigh Morris). Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. 818-506-1983.
PATRIOTISM UNLEASHED! Sketch-comedy show, produced by Theatre Unleashed. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 10:45 p.m.; thru July 31...NEW REVIEW SPEECH AND DEBATE Stephen Karam's hit 2007 off-Broadway play riffs on the presumed nerdiness of high-schoolers who opt for forensics over sports. In this case, three outcasts are also determined to triple their misfit status via drama, the school newspaper and a "gay-straight-alliance." The journey through youthful angst begins as gay Howie (Matt Strunin) trolls online for sex only to discover, to his major gross-out, that he's sexting with the theater teacher. Meanwhile, ambitious but untalented would-be coloratura Diwata (Tiffany Jordan) captures Howie's attention with her "blogalog" about the same teacher's unjust casting policies. Also pulled into the electronic circle is aspiring reporter Solomon (Simon Daniel Lees), who is obsessed with sexual predators. Through a series of scenes, subtitled with Speech and Debate rules, the three find a mutual attraction bordering on friendship, which ultimately allows them to find solace in their eccentricities. Finally they collaborate on a bizarre musical performance-art piece mixing aspects from the plays of Arthur Miller and Wicked among several mismatched ingredients, which is fascinating in its pure awfulness. Though not quite convincing in terms of youth, the acting of the students is superb, compassionately exploring the constant pain and few joys the characters experience. Unfortunately the same is not true of Nina Donato in a pair of adult roles that fly into caricature -- a choice seemingly pushed by director Jon Cortez to get some laughs, which prove to be at the expense of the production. Cortez also keeps the pace so sluggish through clumsy scene breaks, they interfere with the crispness of his young stars. Mike Rademaekers' clever set easily transforms between schoolroom and bedrooms, which provide the unfollowed cues for agile scene transitions. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Aug. 22. (877) 620-7673. (Tom Provenzano)
SUPER SIDEKICK An original children's musical presented by Theatre Unleashed, book by Gregory Crafts, music and lyrics by Michael Gordon Shapiro. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 1 & 4 p.m.; thru Aug. 15, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
GO TWO PLAYS BY YUKO MISHIMA Perhaps most notorious in the West for his sensational, 1970 suicide by seppuku, controversial poet-novelist Yukio Mishima was also a playwright of both contemporary dramas and works blending the modern with traditions drawn from the classical Japanese stage. This fascinating evening features two of Mishima's modernized Noh texts from 1956 (translated by Donald Keene) that play like a Gothic mix of Tennessee Williams and Edgar Allen Poe. With Hanjo, directed by Aramazd Stepanian, Mishima takes the theme of pure love into the tortured extreme of the Noh madness play. Jitsuko (Hiroko Imai) is a 40-year-old painter who, though she has never found love, has discovered the perfect embodiment of it as a subject for her paintings in Hanako (Kazumi Zatkin), a beautiful geisha driven insane by the agony of futilely waiting for the return of true love Yoshio (Yutaka Takeuchi). In The Lady Aoi, Toshi Toda directs Mishima's surreal twist on the vengeful ghost play. Hikaru (Toshiya Agata) arrives at a strange clinic to find his sedated young wife, Aoi (Miho Ando), tormented by "the ghost of a libido," the still-burning love/hate of Hikaru's jilted former lover (Fay Kato). Toda also directs a traditional, short Kyogen interlude piece, the farcical Hana-Ko. Though the production has its share of rough edges, a delightful cast and supple direction (accented by Chris Edinjikilian's misty scenic painting and Sandy Gabucan's effective lights) neatly illuminate Mishima's dark and uncompromising obsessions. (Bill Raden). Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (818) 500-7200.
URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (818) 202-4120.
THE WHO'S TOMMY Book by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff, music and lyrics by Pete Townshend, additional music and lyrics by John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (714) 777-3033.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
ALL CAKE, NO FILE "Johnny Cash Prison Tribute Comedy Cooking Show/Concert," written and performed by Donna Jo Thorndale. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru July 31. (310) 838-4264.
ALL JOIN IN: A FAIRYTALE SING-A-LONG AFTERNOON Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie's musical revue "for kids 2 to 102.". Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Sat.-Sun., 12:30 & 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 394-9779.
GO BECKY'S NEW CAR "When a woman says she wants a new house, she really wants a new husband. When she says she wants a new car, she really wants a new life." In Steven Dietz's smart if tonally uneven new play, these are the prophetic words of amiable and grounded Becky Foster (Joanna Daniels), who worries that she has squandered her best years as an office manager drudge at a car dealership, while saddled with a lumpen husband (Jon Eric Preston) and patronizing grad student son (Nick Rogers). A chance for a new life comes prancing into Becky's dealership, when slightly spacey billionaire billboard tycoon Walter (Brad Greenquist) randomly chooses Becky as the sales agent for his mass-purchase of cars for all the employees at his company. Walter, grieving over the death of his wife, is inexplicably attracted to the earthy "real world" Becky, whose own moral compass starts swinging around like a drunken sailor as she contemplates ditching her family for a life of glamour and wealth. Dietz's play receives its Los Angeles premiere in director Michael Rothhaar's whimsical production that comes laced with melancholy. The play's genesis is worthy of some note: The work was a personal commission by a Seattle arts patron as a gift for his wife. As such, the material occasionally tries a little too hard to please, with a narrative that occasionally emulates the mood of 1930s screwball comedies -- a style that is an uneven alchemical fit with the underlying tone of midlife despair, in which the work is also deeply steeped. However, when Dietz is willing to let the play rise to silly froth, the results are splendid. Scenes in which Daniels' bubbly Becky repeatedly invites opinions from audience members -- some of whom are roped onstage into helping her with a wonderfully droll costume change moment -- balance charmingly with moments in which she finds herself swept away by Greenquist's charismatic Walter. Although the contrivances of the play's final third are too preposterous to sustain even willing disbelief, the ensemble overall crackles with witty, sympathetic performances -- including Rogers as Becky's goofy son and by Suzanne Ford's graceful turn as a prickly rival for Walter's affections. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 15. (310) 822-8392.NEW REVIEW GO BEDROOM FARCE
The title is apt, since the action occurs in three radically different bedrooms in a 1975 English suburb. Kate (blond and taffy-voiced Kate Hollinshead) and Malcolm (buff and playful Jamie Donovan) are having a party in their new flat. Nick (Scott Roberts) and Jan (Ann Noble) are invited, but Nick has put his back out and is confined to his bed in agony -- and he's annoyed that Jan is going to the party without him. Obstreperous and self-obsessed Trevor (Anthony Michael Jones) and his noisily neurotic wife, Susannah (Regina Peluso), are also invited, but their tempestuous marriage is rocked by one of its endless crises. When Trevor makes a pass at former girlfriend Jan, Susannah goes into massive hysterics, wrecking the party. Trevor descends on bedridden Nick to "explain" his behavior, while Susannah runs to Trevor's bemused parents, Ernest (Robert Mandan) and Delia (Maggie Peach), for solace. Alan Ayckbourn's play plumbs no great depths, but he's unflaggingly inventive in exploring comic surfaces, and director Ron Bottitta has assembled a likable and deftly stylish cast to keep the pot boiling on Darcy Prevost's huge and handsome set. Kathryn Poppen's trendy '70s costumes add further charm. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; variable schedule, through September 26. Call theater for info: (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)
BEHOLD: A QUEER PERFORMANCE FESTIVAL Song, dance and performance by Tim Miller, Raquel Gutierrez, Ian MacKinnon, jhon r. stronks, Alex Davis, Sounds of Asteroth, Corey Saucier, Chris Doggett, Hank Henderson, and more., $20 per performance, all-access pass $75. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Through Aug. 1. (310) 315-1459.
BLACK COFFEE Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot mystery. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 364-0535.
A CHORUS LINE The classic musical about 17 Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line., $23, $18 students/seniors. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31. 310-828-7519.
THE CLEAN HOUSE Playwright Sarah Ruhl's bittersweet farce consists of quickly shifting emotional extremes -- at times characters may burst out laughing, but then they start weeping from sorrow midchortle. Kind-hearted Brazilian comedienne Matilde (Elizabeth Liang) might very well be the funniest woman in the world (in her native Portuguese), but she emigrates to the United States and gets a job working as the maid to sourpuss doctor Lane (Colette Kilroy), who is understandably perturbed that her servant prefers cracking jokes to swabbing the floors. When she learns that her surgeon husband Charles (Don Fischer) has fallen in love with one of his mastectomy patients (Denise Blasor), Lane's world crumbles -- but she gets help and support from Matilde and from Lane's emotionally fragile sister Virginia (Shawna Casey), who, as it happens, has a cleanliness fetish. It's awkward, but the theme of emotional extremes extends to the two acts of Ruhl's play: In co-directors Stefan Kruck/Ron Sossi's uneven production, Act 1 is crisp, involving, and scathingly funny, while Act 2 meanders, miring itself in a self indulgently sentimental tone, random plotting and aimless pacing. However, when Kuhl's comedy is strong, it delights with sharp dialogue, brittle characterizations, and smart ironic juxtapositions, such as the exchanges between Kilroy's hilariously uptight Lane and Liang's wonderfully inscrutable Matilde. The play is not so much a standard depiction of the American class system, as it touches on the idea that individuals contain an fixed core of self which is either happy or miserable -- whatever situation arises in life, their ultimate default emotional reaction surfaces. It's just a shame that the show goes off the rails midway through, into terrain of forced and surreal fragments. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)
8 MIDSUMMER QUICKIES Eight short plays, written and directed by Caroline Marshall, Tracy Merrifield, Marnie Olson and Kyle T. Wilson. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (310) 535-6007.
ENGAGEMENT The Katselas Theatre Company presents Allen Barton's dramatic comedy. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (310) 358-9936.
NEW REVIEW GO JAYBIRD AND HALLELUJAH Writer-director Pel Tedder's comedy-drama promises to change the way you think about life, death and the afterlife. Perhaps it will. A bit like an upbeat No Exit on wheels, Tedder's stories concern a handful of unhappy souls riding a bus through purgatory on New Year's Eve. They need to make it to the intersection of Jaybird and Hallelujah in order to cross over to Heaven, but unseen rioters threaten to lock them in limbo. As personal tales are revealed, we are drawn into their torment and recriminations. The flaring temper of an aggressive and sexually charged jock-type Willie (Eric Goldrich) is kept at bay by his adoring girlfriend, Adriana (Sarah Delpizzo), reminding him of the power of positive thinking. We soon learn why he's there, but her presence in purgatory is more mysterious. One smooth-talking character, Swamp Rat (Greg L. Grass) has the colorful and musical vocal delivery of a preacher. There are some beautiful and touching moments in this fine play. Flashes of comedy are underpinned by its serious theme. Don't expect sets or costumes -- this production runs on the smell of an oily rag, sustained by the power of Tedder's nicely modulated writing and some convincing performances. Most nights The Ukomo Theatre Project presents the same play with two different casts, interpretations and strikingly different endings. It's an ambitious attempt and worth the effort. Subtitled "The Redemption" and "The Salvation," the versions perform in repertory. NoHo Actors Studios, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., N.Hlywd.; Sat., 9:15 p.m.; through Aug. 7, firstname.lastname@example.org. (818) 761-2166. Ukomo Theatre Project(Pauline Adamek)
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 which 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 run down 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 fiance 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 underscoring 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. A Rainbow Theatre Company production. (Paul Birchall). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 399-3666.
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (NEW JERSEY) Culver City Public Theatre reworks Shakespeare. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 712-5482.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents Shakespeare's comedy. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru July 31, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
GO OTHELLO When you think Shakespeare in the Park, the first of the Bard's plays to spring to mind as one that makes sense to be staged in an outdoor setting is probably not the tale of the tragic Moor who is tricked into throttling his hapless wife as if she were a rubber chicken. But director Stephan Wolfert's unpretentious, moving production, staged in the outdoor band shell behind the Felicia Mahood Senior Center, unspools with an artful combination of psychological depth and brisk military precision -- a fitting mash-up for a theater company whose members consist of professional actors who are a mix of military veterans and civilians. Although Shakespeare's text suffers from being trimmed to the bone to make the show's 90-minute performance time, Wolfert's production nevertheless boasts some rich character work. Wolfert's turn as the diabolical Iago, whose bitterness over being passed up for promotion drives him to trick his master, Othello (Arnell Powell), into killing his lovely wife, Desdemona (Jody Carlson), is fascinatingly complex. He plays the villain with surface geniality, wheedling his falsely friendly encouragements with an oily smile that makes it only too clear why Othello prefers the handsome, more obviously loyal Cassio (an appealingly charismatic Daniel Kucan). Powell assays Othello as a shrewd (but unexpectedly unworldly) military genius, attracted to the innocence of his Desdemona. He finds himself completely lost amidst the currents of psychological manipulation and warfare -- an easy, naive mark for Wolfert's cerebrally wily Iago. The straightforward simplicity of the brutal scene in which Othello strangles Desdemona (Carlson plays her like some high school sweetheart) is so barbaric, it's far more profoundly disturbing than one sees in most productions of this work. Shakespeare and Veterans Productions. (Paul Birchall). West Los Angeles Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 8, shakespeareandveterans.org. (310) 694-7233.
GO PROCREATION The plays of Justin Tanner are like Rice Krispies. They crackle when you pour in the right actors -- and the actors here from his own company are just right -- and then they kind of wash away. Maybe that doesn't matter. That crackling is the sound of Tanner's satirical barbs directed at the foibles and delusions of L.A. suburban white-trash types. (His latest farce is set in Highland Park.) He does for (or to) L.A. what Del Shores does for (or to) the South. Shores' plays come with more of a message and smidgen more sentimentality. Tanner brings on a gallery of types, lets them go until somebody lands on a revelation, or confession, which may or may not make a jot of difference to the lunatic world being depicted. Maybe it's apt that a play called Procreation should have 13 characters. One of them, Ruby (Danielle Kennedy), is a pregnant grandmother (awaiting octuplets -- she's even brought the sonograms with her) with a sanctimonious gigolo beaux, played wonderfully cocky by Jonathan Palmer. (They both visit SoCal from Colorado, and he offers lectures on healthy lifestyle and self-discipline. He may as well be preaching on the virtues of vitamins to drug dealers.) Everybody here is in debt. Mom Hope (Melissa Denton) runs a novelty store called "Wish on a Rainbow," which smug hubby Michael (nicely goofy by Michael Halpin) announced must liquidate immediately. Can they afford to send their corpulent 15-year-old, bed-wetting son, Gavin (Kody Batchelor), to the fat farm? (He tosses his urine-drenched blanket at his relatives, for his own amusement. He will surely grow up to become a playwright.) Hope's sister Deanie (goggle-eyed Patricia Scanlon) hoards other people's garbage, while her terminally unemployed, good-natured husband, Bruce (Andy Marshall Daley), makes a career out of asking his relatives for loans. There are drug deals, offstage blow jobs and an entire subplot of gay intrigue. Tanner's satire of behaviors roasts not so much a culture of greed as a culture of need -- derived from the cruelty of snarky jokes and emotional neglect. One character says, perhaps ironically, "Let's try to be more mindful of what we say from now on," as though that would fix anything. Call it Molière ultralite. Sitcoms like this depend on the unspoken reactions to the torrent of one-liners. Director David Schweizer has the cartoons just right, but he drives the play on the fuel of its quips rather than the comedic agony that lies beneath them. Which may be why the farce begins to wilt after an hour or so, despite the effervescence of ongoing amusement. The uncredited costumes are very witty. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 7 & 9:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 15, plays411.com. (310) 477-2055.
SHAKESPEARE UNSCRIPTED Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 1. (310) 512-6030.
STRIPPED (a comedy about a drama) Kirsten Severson's multimedia show combining a film with a solo performance. Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 535-6007.
TAPE LoneCollective Theatre presents Stephen Belber's study of motive, memory, truth and perception., email@example.com. Old Expo Furniture Warehouse, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 30. (562) 639-2659.
TWELFTH NIGHT Shakespeare isn't usually the hottest ticket in town (that honor currently belongs to In the Heights), but that's more the fault of buttoned-up high school standards that refuse literature teachers the freedom to explore and explain the rampant bustier-and-trouser unbuttoning in the First Folio. Director Jeff Soroka continues modern theater's attempt to unclothe the plays in Theatre Unleashed's production of the comedy that, typical of Shakespeare, derives its plot from mistaken identity. Sprawled drunkenly between two of his harem at the start of the show, Shawn Cahill's Orsino is one of the most animalistic incarnations of a Shakespearean character in recent memory -- the audience smells before it sees him. Yet he rises both to the heightened language and demystifies it with a bold physicality; Darci Dixon, as Viola, has a fine command of the language, but her energy is so contained and her reactions so muted, she seems to be performing for the camera as opposed to the stage. Fortunately, the show's jesters -- Thomas W. Ashworth as Feste, Paul Bond as Sir Toby Belch, and Jim Martyka as Sir Andrew Aguecheek -- are respectively as witty, bawdy and stupid as intended; and Noah James Butler's excellent turn as the fraught Malvolio provides the prissy tautness to Cahill's alpha-male dispassion. Though Soroka's eye is on upping the sexual ante with his staging, unintentionally comical modern-dancing belly dancers and a boring, throwaway final scene (ah, Shakespeare's ever-problematic wrap-ups) leave the audience answering the eternal conjugal question, so often inspired by the Bard, with the reply: "No, that wasn't so good for me." (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru July 31, theatreunleashed.com. (818) 849-4039.
THE TRUE STORY OF JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Children's Popcorn Theatre show, written and directed by Heidi Dotson. Dr. Paul Carlson Memorial Park, Motor Ave. & Braddock Dr., Culver City; Sat.-Sun., noon.; thru Aug. 22. (310) 712-5482.
TWELFTH NIGHT/JULIUS CAESAR Presented by Shakespeare by the Sea. Point Fermin Park, 807 Paseo del Mar, San Pedro; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 8. (310) 548-7705.