Stage Raw: City Garage Bids Adieu to Fourth Street
2011 MARK TAPER FORUM SEASON ANNOUNCED
John Lithgow will ring in the New Year spinning yarns in Stories By Heart, previously produced at the Lincoln Center and at the National Theatre of Great Britain. Jane Fonda stars in Moisés Kaufman's 33 Variations (to be performed at the Ahmanson). The docket also includes Lanford Wilson's Burn This and Theresa Rebeck's family drama, The Novelist. Closing the season is Morris Panych's Vigil, directed by the author and starring Olympia Dukakis "in a clever pas de deux that re-defines the word droll"
CITY GARAGE BIDS FAREWELL TO THE ALLEY BEHIND THE MALL
City Garage artistic director Frederique Michel said that due to a major funder ceasing subsidy to the company next year, 2010 will mark the final year of the theater at its Fourth Street, Santa Monica location, that it's held for 15 years. Charles Mee's Paradise Park will be the closing production there. Relocation plans for 2011 are unclear, at this point.COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for August 27-Sept. 2, 2010
Our critics are Pauline Adamek, 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
ASIMPROV from Tyrone Giordano's workshop., $10. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sept. 2-4, 8 p.m....
THE CLEAN HOUSE "Sarah Ruhl's unpredictable and sublime rumination on the importance of laughter and mess in our lives.". International City Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; opens Aug. 27; Fri.; Sat.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (562) 436-4610.
LAST FARE A one-man mystery written and performed by Dominic Hoffman., $20. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 2, 8 p.m.. (310) 306-1854.
THE MEN OF MAH JONGG Richard Atkins' comedy about four mature Jewish men finding happiness through the ancient Chinese game of mah jongg. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Sept. 1; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 364-0535.
NAACP FESTIVAL OF 10-MINUTE PLAYS Produced by the Beverly Hills-Hollywood NAACP., $10. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 3 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 3 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.
NEIGHBORS Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' story of a family of rowdy actors who move next door to an upwardly mobile academic. Directed by Nataki Garrett., $25. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 29, 2:30 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 852-1445.
PHI'LA Jamal Y. Speakes' musical addressing "overwrought racial contention" between friends, centered on a black teenager who moves from Philadelphia to L.A., $20. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.
SACRED FOOLS' CREEPY CARNIVAL! Carny-style madness to kick off the company's 14th season., $15. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 7:30 p.m.. (310) 281-8337.
SURFIN' TIKI VARIETY SHOW Stories, music, acts and art from the Captured Aural Phantasy Theater crew., $10. The WHERE Gallery, 1519 Griffith Park Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m....
TAPE Stephen Belber's acclaimed three-person motel-room drama, directed by Joelle Arqueros., $20. Bill Becker's NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 2; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. 323-839-0023.
TITUS REDUX Circus Theatricals and Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble co-produce this high-energy adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens Aug. 29; Sun., 7 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (213) 628-2772.
TRANSITIONS A trilogy of one-acts dealing "ordinary people struggling with a call from God"., $20. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Sat., Aug. 28, 8 p.m.. (213) 489-0994.
THE WOMEN Short stories by L.A.'s "best female writers . . . performed by top film, television and stage actors.". MBar Supper Club, 1253 N. Vine, L.A.; Fri., Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m....
CONTINUING PERFORMANCESIN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
GO FREE MAN OF COLOR A young, well-spoken and highly educated black man is tapped to become the leader of a nation. But it's not who you think. The year is 1828, the place is Athens, Ohio, and the man is John Newton Templeton (Kareem Ferguson), a freed slave whose education is facilitated by the Rev. Robert Wilson (Frank Ashmore). Wilson, a strictly principled man, enrolls John in Ohio University. Wilson's wife, Jane (Kathleen Mary Carthy), initially cold to Templeton when he comes to live with them, softens over time; however, she plants doubts in Templeton's head about Wilson's plan to make him the governor of Liberia. Charles Smith's spare three-character study unfolds through intimate moments and intellectual discourse, powerfully examining the issues of its day, as well as questions surrounding citizenship and belonging, which continue to occupy us. The dialogue is especially refreshing for its crisp diction, for which the credit goes to both the cast and director Dan Bonnell. The show also appeals visually, as David Potts' set, consisting of stark silhouettes, brings to mind both the popular 18th century portraiture and African woodcuts. Similarly, A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's authentically plain costumes avoid the dual pitfalls of theatrical period garb, which is often either too showy or simply looks fake. The cast is stellar all around, taking us on a journey that stresses the urgency of fulfilling the promises upon which our country was built. (Mayank Keshaviah). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (818) 558-7000.
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., 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.
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; Tues.-Fri., Sun., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (310) 208-5454.NEW REVIEW GO MASTER CLASS In the wooded Theatricum Botanicum, though the crickets are competing to hit the high "C," they can't rattle Ellen Geer's imperious turn as Maria Callas -- the soprano is used to swatting down her rivals. Today, her targets are the overconfident Julliard students in her master class: they're too soft, too simple. When it comes to la Divina and her precious time, these three coeds (Elizabeth Tobias, Meaghan Boeing and Andreas Beckett) can't win. Weak voices are an insult, better voices an affront. Would you expect hugs from a scrapper who saw even the audience as her enemy? Terrence McNally's fanged comedy is gleeful schadenfreude when Callas destroys these hopefuls and burnishes her own legend but sublime when discussing the art of opera -- after she's shredded the students' egos, she gifts them a foundation to rebuild. But while director Heidi Helen Davis helps Geer sharpen her knives, both are lost in McNally's too on-the-nose inner monologues. These are meant to expose Callas' vulnerability, particularly in her memories of Aristotle Onassis, who by the play's setting had already dumped the diva for Jackie Kennedy. Here, these raw pains ring like fluttery pop psychology -- if Callas heard them, she'd shriek. "This isn't just opera, this is your life," she commands, and like Tosca and Medea, she is the heroine of her own tragedy. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; 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. (Amy Nicholson)
NEW REVIEW GO ON THE VERGE (OR THE GEOGRAPHY OF YEARNING) When you receive the hieroglyphic text, "omg r u going to b here l8r?" from your mother, not your preteen cousin, the days of spitting at the spelling of "Quik," or "E-Z," seem positively quaint. Indeed, "language takes a beating in the future," says Harriet Whitmyer as Fanny, one of three spirited, prefeminist explorers in Eric Overmyers' time-tripping, word-whirling play. For those greedy geeks of us who've always gobbled sentences faster than they're written, Overmyer offers the equivalent of a buffet table buckling under the weight of one of each of Jonathan Gold's "99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die": All deserve your undivided attention, but the next tastes equally as delicious as the last. Yet the true coup is that Overmyer actually says something with all those lovely words. Though the women (a terrific Anna Kate Mohler and Susan E. Taylor complete the trio) are trekking -- lustily, not fearfully -- through "terra incognita," they are unmitigatedly familiar with their internal ranges. This is an Eden where women can take nips of liquor from their own flasks, eat "bear chops and moose mousse" and wield knives and guns with the ease of gangsters, while simultaneously bemoan "life without a loofah" and sweat over the sight of a man (the funny Diego Parada). Fear steadily increases, as the future begins to tumble into their consciousnesses but so does their inclination to embrace it, for better or worse. Daniel Bergher's and Sean Gray's light and sound designs nicely complement the dialogue-thick script. Andrew Vonderschmitt directs. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St.; Long Beach. Fri.-Sat., 8:00 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through September 18. (562) 494-1014 (Rebecca Haithcoat)
SMOKE & MIRRORS Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera's mystery, set on a desert island filming location. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28. (562) 494-1014.
SPEAK OF ME AS I AM It's easy to understand why singers and dramatic artists would want to portray the legendary Paul Robeson. Actor, athlete, intellect and man of principle, Robeson fearlessly battled for justice -- and paid the price. This solo show, featuring opera baritone KB Solomon, meshes some of the highlights of Robeson's life with renditions of the songs ("Old Man River," "Going Home") for which he's most famous. The (uncredited) script relays information about Robeson's life in no particular order but repeatedly returns to his battle with HUAC's hearings and their painful aftermath. Directed by Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, Solomon (whose bio lists music credits but no acting) spins an expository monologue that remains on the surface and seems most suitable for youthful audiences unfamiliar with the material. Designer Michael Boucher has crafted a low-budget but attractive set, and Joyce S. Long's lighting adds professional sheen. (Deborah Klugman). Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Through Sept. 5.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 960-5772.
THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; 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.apertickets.com/event/121721. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW GO A WITHER'S TALE The Troubadour Theatre Company, led by writer-director and chief jester Matt Walker, is renowned for witty mash-ups of Shakespeare with pop tunes. Watching this lampoon of A Winter's Tale and Bill Withers, die-hard Troubie fans may lament the less-than-usual ratio of comedy to drama. Combining a handful of Withers' gentle pop hits with Shakespeare's problematic play (is it a drama? is it a romantic comedy?) makes for a more low-key experience than usual. Echoing Othello, an irrationally jealous King (Matt Walker) incarcerates his pregnant wife, Hermione (Monica Schneider), on suspicion of fraternizing with his best friend, King Polixenes (Matt Merchant), and orders the execution of their baby girl. The somber saga builds to Walker's showstopping rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine," enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick's elegant lighting design. Clocking in at 90 minutes (no intermission), this show's strength lies in the plaintive musical numbers. The five-strong band is superb and features some haunting underscoring and solos from John Krovoza on cello and violin. The entire cast sing, harmonize and dance exquisitely -- credit Ameenah Kaplan for her deceptively simple yet tight choreography. Sets for a Troubie show are typically spartan, which makes Sharon McGunigle's luscious period costumes particularly noteworthy. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through September 26. (818) 955-8101. A Troubadour Theatre Company production (Pauline Adamek)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
AS THE GLOBE WARMS Solo performer Heather Woodbury creates elaborate worlds. For her performance What Ever, Woodbury elasticized herself into 100 characters for a sprawling American epic. This follow-up is a semi-political soap opera that will run a new installment every weekend for three months, and, gauging by its launch, Woodbury's interested in charting the rise and fall of the artistic class and the crystallization of the divide between the two Americas. On the 4th of July 1985, a cowed girl picks up a video camera and discovers she's an artist; 25 years later, she's dead and her brother is attempting to describe her archive of tapes to a barbecue of gentrified Californian creatives who deign to do their own sculpting rather than hiring interns for the "dirty" work. On the other coast, a preacher, his shrewish Tea Party wife and their daydreamy teen daughter fret about the BP oil spill and a species of endangered frogs that might prevent them from expanding their church's parking lot. Woodbury has little patience for both blues and reds and loves to skewer the of hypocrisies of both camps. To help her stay true to her own voice, she could use a director (none is credited) to help her shape and simplify her frantic character changes; she has a capable range of accents but spends scenes shifting wildly around in her chair to make sure we're following who's who. Besides the chair, the only prop onstage is a handycam that records each episode for the internet and streams it live on a screen against the wall. It's unclear yet if the distraction will prove purposeful, but what's certain from the starting gate is that the enthusiastic Woodbury has energy for miles (and months). (Amy Nicholson). Echo Curio, 1519 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (213) 977-1279.
ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.NEW REVIEW GO CHESS IN CONCERT
Photo by Gabriel Griego
This rock opera, with lyrics by Tim Rice,
book by Richard Nelson, and music by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus
of ABBA, was first produced as a concept album. Now, after a number of
unsatisfactory theatrical variations, Rice has wisely named the concert
version as the official one. Like the game of chess, the show is
abstract, and the concert version matches that, putting the focus on
the characters, their emotional conflicts and the virtuosity of the
performers. The action is set at the international chess championship
matches. Act 1 pits Soviet champ Anatoly (Peter Welkin) against the
willful, petulant, show-boating American, Frederick (Blake McIver
Ewing). Anatoly wins but immediately defects to England, setting the
stage for the dynamic Act 2. Defector Anatoly is pitted against a
high-powered Soviet player (Christopher Zenner). Soviet official
Molokov (Gregory North) is hell-bent on making sure the disloyal
Anatoly loses and will do anything to make realize that outcome,
including psychological warfare, blackmail and ruthless meddling with
the personal lives of Anatoly, his estranged wife (Emily Dykes) and his
Hungarian girlfriend, Florence (Nicci Claspell). Director Robert Marra
provides a crisply elegant production, musical director/conductor Greg
Haake impeccably renders the challenging score, and the performers are
terrific, including Gil Darnell, Rich Brunner and the excellent chorus.
Met Theatre, 1089 Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., through
August 29. (323) 960-7735. Produced by The Musical Theatre of Los
Angeles. (Neal Weaver)
COMEDY DETH RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
EAT THE RUNT A satirical comedy written by Avery Crozier, where office politics, sexual harassment, religion, political correctness, and societal and cultural norms are all up for grabs. In each performance audiences decide what roles the actors will play. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Thurs..; thru Sept. 9. (323) 856-8611.
THE EINSTEIN PROJECT Paul d'Andrea and Jon Klein's atomic bomb play. Plus: The Face of Jizo by Hisashi Inoue. Junction Theatre, Barbarella Neighborhood Bar & Kitchen, 2609 N. Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 4, brownpapertickets.com...
THE EXERCISE Lewis John Carlino's 1968 play centers on a series of improvisations, conducted by the Actor (Daniel LaPratt, alternating with Keith Wyffels) and the Actress (Anadel Baughn, alternating with Susan Hanfield) in an attempt to solve some troubling acting problems. Initially, it seems they're only casual acquaintances, but as they work, it becomes clear that they have had a traumatic personal relationship. Soon, they are at loggerheads in an age-old conflict: He's concerned with simulating emotion to show the audience, while she wants to use her acting to explore her own identity and achieve gut-level emotional truth. He regards her as a self-indulgent emotional masturbator, and she sees him as a coward who can never allow himself to lose control. Eventually, she challenges him to meet her on her terms. Though the premise is a fascinating one, the production doesn't always work. Baughn is constantly convincing, but it's not until Act 2 that LaPratt achieves the same emotional conviction. And there's something murky here, whether it's inherent in the script or due to a lack of clarity in director Kenn Schmidt's production. Nevertheless, the piece is always interesting to watch, and there's excellent work from both actors. (Neal Weaver). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Aug. 29, plays411.com/theexercise. (323) 960-7724.
FIRST LOOK FESTIVAL OF NEW Schedule at openfist.org. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Sept. 18. (323) 882-6912.
FLAT: A PLAY ABOUT SMALL BREASTS AND EVERYTHING ELSE THAT'S GREAT IN LIFE In a tween's world, having or not having breasts is usually the first experience of the grass being greener. For every generously gifted fifth grader covertly and desperately binding her rapidly blooming chest with an Ace bandage, there's a Judy Blume character begging God for "something" to fill her training bra. Ellen Clifford never received that something. Heavily influenced by Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, Clifford's autobiographical show recounts past and present episodes, most of which gleefully celebrate her breasts, or lack thereof. The problems arise less from the subject matter -- several of the monologues could run as essays on the popular sort-of feminist Web site, Jezebel -- than with the adolescent-awkward construction and execution. She employs accents where none are needed (the "these my ho boots" bit, confusing in that it's supposed to introduce her struggle with anorexia, is especially cringe-inducing, bordering on offensive) and interacts with the audience by passing around the gel inserts from her push-up bra. Given that this is a show about, well, her, Clifford seems surprisingly uncomfortable throughout the performance, which is exacerbated by a clenched-teeth gaiety. Neither do the two unnecessary performers accompanying her -- the precise, talented mime, Mitchel Evans, and director Lora Ivanova, who only serve to slow the already-bumpy pace -- benefit her. Though some refreshing confessionals ("I'm a terrible Dolly Parton impersonator," she says after lip-synching "9 to 5") provide a smile here and there, ultimately the show feels as artificial as a boob job. (Rebecca Haithcoat). The Black Box Theater, 12420 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 28...
GO FOUR PLACES The family outing on display in Joel Drake Johnson's unsettling comedy resembles a gathering of ornery, wounded jackals. Siblings Warren (Tim Bagley) and Ellen (Roxanne Hart) motor to their parents' Chicago home to take their diminutive, gray-haired mother Peggy (Anne Gee Byrd) out for a what is presumably a pleasant lunch. At first blush, this seems innocent enough, but something about Ellen's painful, labored smile as she hugs the wheel, and Warren's cold, mummified expression, suggest that something is amiss. It isn't long before the moral underbelly of this clan emerges along with some ugly revelations. Mom's harmless exterior drips away with each rum and Coke she knocks back (and every trip to the bathroom, where she pees blood), and there emerges a subtly vicious female, a practiced manipulator who delights in tormenting her children with reminders of their lacerating miseries and failures. But an even darker secret surfaces concerning Peggy's alcoholic, invalid husband (who never appears onstage but is a towering presence, nevertheless), and rumors that she is abusing, and even attempting to murder him. The manner in which Drake tells this story -- blending humor and stark ugliness, while exploring themes of sibling rivalry, marital infidelity and even euthanasia -- is thoroughly engaging and held in sharp balance by director Robin Larsen. The characters are fully fleshed out, both in the writing and the performances, as disturbing for their and their vulnerabilities as for their anger. Rounding out a superb cast is Lisa Rothschiller. (Lovell Estell III)., (323) 960-4424. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 422-6361.
GAYS R US $14. THE IMPROV, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; First Wednesday of every month, 8 p.m.. (323) 651-2583.
THE GOOD NEGRO A black minister (Phrederic Semaj) stands at his
pulpit, exhorting his congregation to fight racial injustice. A member
of a "citizen's patrol" (Brian E. Smith) brutally beats a black woman
(Theresa Deveaux) for taking her child into the whites-only restroom.
These opening scenes in playwright Tracey Scott Wilson's fictionalized
account of the early civil rights movement are among its most
effective. Wilson strives to bring the pages of history into human
focus by portraying the infighting among a group of activists
struggling to organize nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama, in 1963.
At the center of the effort is the minister, James Lawrence, a
committed and charismatic leader with a beautiful, devoted wife (Numa
Perrier) -- and an adulterous penchant for pretty women. Spied upon by
the FBI, the organization is also hampered by contentiousness within
its ranks, with Lawrence's fiery second-in-command (Damon Christopher)
and a new tactical organizer from out of state (Austen Jaye) at each
others' throats. While the play offers a compelling reminder of the
vicious racism in our not-so-distant past, the script's docudrama
flavor and uncomplicated characters require much finessing on the part
of the ensemble. Under Sam Nickens' direction, that hasn't yet
happened, with performances, on opening night, ranging from serviceable
to over-the-top. The exceptions include Perrier, intense and authentic
as Lawrence's betrayed wife; and Deveaux, whose character suffers great
personal loss, and whose portrayal of sorrow ably brings home the
tragedy of events. Upward Bound Productions. (Deborah Klugman). Stella
Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3
p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (323) 960-1054.
Greater Tuna Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard's small-town Texas comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 25. (626) 256-3809.
Don John (Sean Pritchett) is such a bastard. Really. He's the bastard son of Don Pedro (Luis Galindo), prince of Aragon. Imagine smearing the reputation of an innocent bride, Hero (Mary Alton) in order to cast doubts in the mind of her groom, Claudio (Erwin Tuazon) -- who believes the worst without fact-checking. If this weren't a comedy, it would look a whole lot like Othello. Oh, that's funny, what a coincidence: This same company just did that play earlier this summer, also al fresco in Griffith Park. Independent Shakespeare Company's artistic director and managing director, respectively, Melissa Chalsma and David Melville (also husband and wife in real life) play the dubiously romantic couple, Beatrice and Benedick, cousins who pleasure in hurling insults at each other with echoes of the Taming of the Shrew. That love resides beneath such hostility is an unflinchingly optimistic idea in an unflinchingly optimistic comedy. Melville's Benedick is a comedic masterpiece -- surly while lampooning his own world-weariness, in the tradition of English comedian Gerard Hoffnung. Chalsma, like the rest of the ensemble, bounces every syllable off the highest leaf of the farthest tree. No microphones. This is what old cranks like me call training. Director Ron Bashford throws in a Commedia parade, with masks and music. Characters who are hiding do so amongst the audience of picnickers. On the eve I attended, there were hundreds in the crowd, absorbing the multiple players of wit like a sponge. Independent Shakespeare Company in Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 7 p.m.; through August 29. Free. (323) 913-4688. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GROUNDLINGS RIVER ADVENTURE Despite evidence of comic timing, this Groundlings sketch comedy-improv show lacks the kind of comedic distinction that has made the troupe's reputation. Directed by Damon Jones, this outing is a tepid series of scripted sketches, broken up by four improvised sequences where an emcee calls on the crowd for cues. Early on, the audience seemed predisposed to have a good time, judging by the hysterical laughter that seemed disproportionate to the comic stylings onstage. Half-baked routines included a sketch depicting a daffy Stephenie Meyers in drag, which poked fun at the popular author and her fans, and a familiar bit involving couples playing a guessing game called "Taboo." A three-piece band kept the mood vibrant by playing during the interludes, while the cast slipped into yet another fright wig or costume. But as the evening wore on, the long musical breaks between routines provided useful opportunities for people to check their devices. By the third improv sequence, the emcee was fielding facetious suggestions from the audience. That, disassembling improvs, plus some lazy writing, made for a disappointing night. (Pauline Adamek). 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.
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.NEW REVIEW GO KARMA THE MUSICAL Is Hindsight really 20-20? In this engaging musical, a baby boomer named Christine (book writer Susan C. Hunter) travels back to the 1960s to counsel her younger self on how to avoid error and heartbreak. Supremely confident, perky college-age Chris (Katie McConaughy) dismisses Christine's cautionary exhortations ("You're old!" she snaps at the woman she will become), then treks off to a rock concert to hook up with peace marcher Greg (Trevor Murphy), who will father -- and later abandon -- their child. Bolstered by composer Les Oreck's spirited score and lyrics, the play cruises through several decades, tracking Chris' struggles as a single mom while noting, Forrest Gump-like, the broad societal changes our nation undergoes. One funny scene depicts the hippie "commitment" ceremony that Greg persuades Chris is as binding as a marriage. It isn't. The piece also replays the bitterness surrounding the Vietnam war, integrating that conflict via Chris' brother Frank (Matt Pick), a marine who resents Greg's politics. And the production gains traction from Liz Heathcoat's lively choreography, executed by an enthusiastic ensemble, and from videographer Scott Hunter's background montage of cultural icons. That said, the show has multiple rough edges, including an uneven standard of performance and vocals that need improving. Director Michael Eiden does a respectable job of maneuvering a large cast in a small space, but this show does require more room. Among the ensemble, Brittany Beaudry stands out as Chris' supercool pal, Gloria. Heathcoat as Greg's sanctimonious mom and Pick as the upstanding Frank are notable in smaller roles. Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; through August 28. (323) 469-3113. (Deborah Klugman)
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.
LA TOOL & DIE: LIVE! Stage version of Sean Abley's 1970s gay porn film. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (323) 957-1884.
LIFE OF EASE Phillip William Brock's story of an Oklahoma grandmother and her grandson. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Through Aug. 28, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sept. 1, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 5, 2 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 12, 2 p.m.; Through Sept. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 18, 2 & 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.
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 Oct. 30. (323) 666-4268.
GO MEDEA Euripides' tragedy concerning a betrayed woman and her monstrous revenge remains a timeless examination of humanity's struggle with its darker, primal urges. With the exception of a misstep at play's end, Travis Terry brilliantly directs a superb cast, relocating the story to a contemporary lunatic-asylum setting. The text reveals a few contemporary words -- and ,i\>trash -- while preserving the antique language that's so rich with imagery and passion. Adalgiza Chermountd's Medea is first heard wailing from behind a white paper wall, part of designer Dionne Poindexter's central set piece of Medea's quarters, which rotates with ease. "Whipping her grief-tormented heart into a fury," Chermountd has a disheveled yet formidable presence, and her multihued interpretation ranges from coherent and ferocious to deranged. Her unspeakable deed is chillingly depicted. Commenting in unison, the chorus of young girl (Shaina Vorspan), mother (Lauren Wells) and grandmother (Karen Richter) double as asylum orderlies, with Shaina Vorspan giving an especially expressive performance. There are some welcome moments of levity in R. Benito Cardenas' playful interpretation of Aegeus, one of Medea's fellow lunatics. A highlight is the scene when Medea's duplicitous ex-husband, Jason (Max Horner), attempts to "correct her exaggeration" with his version of events. Aside from a tacked-on happy ending that feels utterly false, this unpretentious production holds many rewards. (Pauline Adamek). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 667-0955.
GO THE MYSTER OF IRMA VEP It's been 18 years since this manor mystery was the No. 1 <0x00AD>produced play in America, and it hasn't worn out its welcome. In a dreary, rural house, the widowed master (Kevin Remington) has brought home a bride (Michael Lorre), a tremulous blond actress who might not have the wits to survive the local vampires and werewolves (or the grudging maid and infatuated stable boy). Charles Ludlam's fleet-footed thriller comedy is in the key of camp, but this production tampers down the winks and nudges, staging it as an exercise in theatrical imagination. Lorre's sparse set design is a model of how to turn a small budget into an asset. The furniture and decorations are drawn with thin, white lines on flat, black-painted wood, and the actors set the tone by first finishing the final touches with chalk. Irma Vep is always staged as a play for two performers, and Remington and Lorre (who also directs) are great sports, changing from a bumpkin with a wooden leg to a bare-breasted Egyptian princess in less time than it takes to tie your shoes. The actors' physicality is great, but dresser Henry Senecal and stage manager Akemi Okamura also take deserved bows at the end. (Amy Nicholson). SPACE916, 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (323) 667-1304.
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 Sept. 26. (323) 663-1525.
GO PARASITE DRAG As screwed-up families go, the one on exhibit in Mark Roberts' ultra-dark comedy makes a serious run for the top prize. The first glimpse of Gene (Robert Foster) reveals a sullen man hunched over a kitchen table, with an ice pad on his eye, as he nurses a shiner he got from his wife, Joellen (Mim Drew); she sits, staring out of the door, wryly commenting on the impending tornado about to strike their tiny Midwestern town. Eight years without sex, and trapped in a loveless marriage, they are bonded only by the conventions of small-town propriety, shallow pretense and Gene's fanatical Christian beliefs. The real twister, however, comes in the form of Gene's boorish, foul-mouthed brother, Ronnie (the outstanding Boyd Kestner), and his countrified wife, Susie (Agatha Nowicki), who drop in unexpectedly. Apparent from the outset is the seething resentment between Gene and Ronnie, which Roberts' fine script slowly heats to critical mass, uncovering a dark undercurrent of shared emotional and psychological mutilation. Sordid revelations emerge about the family's troubled past, their mother's bloody suicide and the sexual molestation of a drug-abusing sister, who is now dying of AIDS in a hospital. The final plot turn is raw and dirty. Notwithstanding the play's bleak tapestry, Roberts instills plenty of comic relief into his writing. The characters are well sketched and without a trace or urbanity. David Fofi delivers spot-on direction and draws very good performances from his cast, particularly Nowicki, who artfully blends Southern charm and simplicity with trailer-trash attitude. (Lovell Estell III). Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat..; thru Sept. 18. (213) 614-0556.
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.
NEW REVIEW SAD HAPPY SUCKER
Photo courtesy of Lyric Hyperion Theatre
If the devil is truly to be found in the details, then playwright Lee Kirk's painfully pallid homage to French Absurdist master Eugène Ionesco isn't in need of a dramaturg so much as an exorcist. The play begins promisingly enough, with the introduction of Eddie (Eddie Bell), a young suburbanite whose feet have become mysteriously rooted in place where he stands in the back yard of his dotty Mother (Lauri Johnson). It's the kind of patently surreal premise whose real-world, life-and-death consequences Ionesco would have explored with a deliriously relentless logic to foreground a deeper, ontological inquiry. However, unlike on planet Earth, where the first responders to such a crisis might be an EMT unit or the fire department, Kirk sends in a spectacularly inept doctor (Valentine Miele), who somehow still makes house calls. When the physician becomes likewise immobilized but is told no rope is available for an attempted winch to freedom, even that obstacle is given the lie by an ignored, albeit handy garden hose pointlessly ornamenting Christian Zollenkopf's incongruously realistic backyard set (convincingly accented by Alicia Ziff's diurnal lighting). Director Sean Gunn and his supremely gifted cast do manage to milk Kirk's situational ludicrousness for sporadic laughs. But these are not enough to finally push the text's bantamweight dramatic stakes (the characters' imperiled dignity) and non sequitur-laden plot into the heavyweight division of Ionescan existential despair. Lyric Hyperion Theatre, 2106 Hyperion Ave., Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 10. (323) 342-2261.
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.
SHAKE A man named Bill (Jo Egender) and his ex, Peggy (Alina Phelan), stand eight uneasy feet apart after a chance encounter in a park. She's homeless; he's a lapsed alcoholic. What turned their love upside-down? Joshua Fardon's chronological play ticks backward every month for a year, from August 2002 to September 10, 2001, and unpacks the affairs and betrayals and guilts sprung from strangers named Matt (Troy Blendell), Julia (Michelle Gardner) and Robin (Bridgette Campbell). The mystery comes in the reverse momentum. Told forward, it's a soap opera -- going back, a parlor game. We know this drama traces back to the fall of the towers, but when we get there, we realize Bill and Peggy's relationship was already headed to destruction -- 9/11 simply changed the route. More catastrophic is the entrance of Claire (Hiwa Bourne), a femme fatale who uses the disaster for her own ends, though even she, too, is scrabbling for a purpose. Kiff Scholl's direction knows that with every scene, the characters know less and hope more. Under his guidance, Phelan's New York naif is especially heartbreaking. She's a girl with simple dreams, and within the year, even those are impossibly far away. (Amy Nicholson). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (323) 856-8611.
SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT $20, seniors $15, children under 2 free. 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. (213) 250-9995.
STILL STANDING Playwright Shyla Martin sets out to tell the tale of Laura (Venessa Peruda), a Los Angeles woman who discovers a startling letter while sorting through the belongings of her deceased father. In it, the writer, Celeste Ellis (Monique McIntyre), informs Dad that she has borne him a daughter, and asks for child support. Laura is thunderstruck to discover that she has a half-sister. Her Aunt Sarah (Eileen T'Kaye) urges her to go to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to track down the mysterious sister. But the meeting with that sister, Tracey (Nichelle Hines), proves awkward because, though both women had white fathers and African-American mothers, Laura is ostensibly white and Tracey is recognizably black. When the two women eventually form a bond, it's threatened by unforeseen events. The story is potentially interesting, but Martin's naive dramaturgy dilutes its power. Many short scenes, in different locales, make for long, debilitating scene changes; plot details emerge in haphazard, confusing fashion; and there are red herrings: Tracey's brother (Rondrell McCormick) elaborately hides a mysterious packet, which is never explained or referred to again. Director Nick Mills has assembled a capable cast, but the play's fragmentary scenes and shifting focus defuse their efforts. (Neal Weaver). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun..; thru Sept. 12. (323) 960-7863.
GO STREEP TEASE "Meryl Streep, gay icon?" I asked Google. She's no Judy Garland, but enough affirmative results returned that, when considered alongside creator Roy Cruz's all-male review of some of Streep's finest screen scenes, she seems well on her way. In her roles, she's checked off, among others, driven activist, "guilty-until-proven-innocent" outsider, and frost-bitten bitch. In her "real" life, she's eschewed ascribing to Hollywood's rigid standards of beauty, becoming successful on her own terms. Cruz and director Ezra Weisz have constructed a well-structured, tight show that's over almost before you want it to be, even though the theater is stuffy to the point of sweaty (further proof of their sense of humor -- hand-held fans emblazoned with Streep's face are given as trivia prizes). In case you lack an "inner Streep," Cruz prefaces each monologue with a synopsis of the movie. Mimicking the Academy Awards' setup, a swell of music sweeps the performer down the aisle and up the stage, and he poses dramatically as the lights fade. Since the cast chose their own pieces, they're all well reenacted; naming a favorite is really more about your own favorite "Meryl moment." That said, Trent Walker's scene from Silkwood is white-trashtastic; and Taylor Negron's from Sophie's Choice coalesces the audience into one being, collectively holding our breaths and back our tears. The show's great affection for the un-diva is best revealed in its gentle ribbing, though: Mike Rose's re-creation of a scene from The River Wild should be included if Ms. Streep ever gets a roast. (Rebecca Haithcoat). BANG, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 29. (323) 653-6886.
STRIPPED (A COMEDY ABOUT A DRAMA) Who'd have guessed that the gaudy neon sign around the corner advertising Psychic Readings could be hiding a theater. There is indeed a tiny space upstairs for storytelling that is probably more real that the storytelling going on downstairs. In this case, the story is Kirsten Severson's tale of the tumultuous end to her five-year relationship with "The Prince." Accompanied onstage by two video screens, Severson describes the good times in their relationship (including the clever "Peas in a Pod" video montage) before transitioning to the fateful voice mail that begins her descent into insecurity and heartbreak. Originally a solo show titled . . . I Think You Went a Little Far With the Herpes Thing . . . , the piece has since been developed into a feature film, and now returns as a half-film/half-staged solo show. The combination of media unfortunately doesn't gel, and despite some good lines and moments, director Carlos Velasco's pacing drags in a number of spots and Severson's stage presence feels halfhearted at times. Instead the video sequences -- which are well lit and crisply edited -- are the show's most engaging aspect. As a short film it could prove visually arresting; as a piece of theater, however, it's little more than another love story gone awry. (Mayank Keshaviah). Psychic Visions Theatre, 3447 Motor Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8:30 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (310) 535-6007.
GO A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT A new L.A.-based ensemble called Psittacus Productions is extending a performance of A Tale Told by an Idiot from the Hollywood Fringe at Son of Semele theater. It's a mash-up of Shakespeare's Macbeth that includes the character of Guy Fawkes, which suggests an influence from Bill Cain's Equivocation. Every scene of the hour-long piece is a plot against somebody's life or a murder, starring -- among the very strong ensemble -- the lighting plot of designer Dan Weingarten. The action unfolds behind a scrim and is lit entirely with pin lights, some on the floor, some held by the performers. We see only faces, shifting eyes and shadows creeping across scrims and walls. The three witches (Casey Fitzgerald, Madeleine Hamer and Liz Saydah) appear in masks, and all we see are those masks, or three hands crawling up a wall, or feet tremulously stepping. In some scenes we just see two daggers, barely illuminated, and little more. With composer Graham Galatro's composition, the effect is mesmerizing, culminating in the closing line, that comes in Macbeth right before the more famous "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing." The line that lingers is that line's direct predecessor: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more." This is the lucid essence of the piece. Fine performances also by Casey Brown, Louis Butelli, Lisa Carter, Daryl Crittenden, Darin Dahms and Chas LiBretto. Robert Richmond directs. Psittacus Productions at . Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Aug. 29...
[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. 11. (323) 957-1884.
GO TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Lincoln and Booth are bizarre monikers for a pair of siblings. In this solid revival of Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, capably directed by Martin Papazian, names aren't the only ironic peculiarity here. Lincoln (A.K Murtadha) and Booth (M.D. Walton) are African-Americans, named by a neglectful, long-gone father as a joke; they now cling to one another for survival yet harbor volcanic resentments toward each other. The play's potency lies in this attraction-repulsion dynamic and the resultant venomous acrimony, which Parks so neatly dissects. Lincoln, the oldest, is kicked out by his wife and forced to move into Booth's sleazy, trash-strewn apartment. Life isn't unbearably wretched for him; he has a "real" job as an arcade attraction playing the Great Emancipator -- complete with whiteface, fake beard, stovepipe and trashy overcoat -- while patrons shoot him for recreation. Once a master of the three-card monte street hustle, he now salves what's left of his dignity with false hopes and Jack Daniels. His pistol-packing brother, however, dreams of being the ultimate monte player, seeing the game as his ticket out of poverty and an affirmation of his manhood. Parks sketches an ugly portrait of thwarted urban life, sibling rivalry and crippling self-delusion. Though not much happens in this two-hour comedy, the writing is thoroughly engaging. Yet it's Walton and Murtadha's rugged, emotionally charged performances that work the magic. (Lovell Estell III). Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (323) 960-7719.
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. GO
GO A WOLF INSIDE THE FENCE "You can't lose your way in a history class. You can only go backwards," says Linus McBride (Arthur Hanket), a history teacher who seems to be losing his passion, and possibly his marbles. The target of the advice is Marion McNeely (Charlotte Chanler), a troubled transfer student at McBride's public Oregon high school. With dark secrets of his own, Linus cultivates an attachment to Marion. At the same time, Judy cultivates an interest in the girl, with whom she shares more than she would care to admit, while losing interest in her boyfriend, Math teacher Harold Carson (Colin Walker). What develops is an intense series of events as these wounded animals become entwined in each other's lives. Playwright Joseph Fisher weaves a rich tapestry of dark chocolate secrets and twisted desires, pairing it perfectly with a dry champagne wit that sparkles in the mouths of this talented cast. Hanket, particularly, wields Fisher's rapier wit with impeccable comic timing and an understated manner that leads to some devastatingly funny lines. The credit for this must, of course, be shared with director Benjamin Burdick, who strikes a fine balance between the piece's humor and horror. The minimally staged performance is a good reminder that when fancy sets, lighting and other aspects of modern stagecraft are put away, the heart of good drama is compelling characters and a well-crafted text. (Mayank Keshaviah). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Aug. 29, 2 p.m.; Through Sept. 3, 8 p.m.; Through Sept. 11, 8 p.m.. (323) 882-6912.
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.; thru Sept. 5...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCESIN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED 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.; thru Aug. 28. (800) 838-3006.
BECOMING NORMAN Utah native Norman P. Dixon has had two coming-out parties: first, as a gay man and second as an artist. At times, he's been one or the other -- say, when he graduated with a drama degree from BYU -- but this solo show marks the 45-year-old's insistence on claiming both after spending the last 15 years toiling in office work and retail. The first half of the night follows the artist as pretty blond boy slowly learning that (a) there was a closet, and (b) he was in it. No quick revelation in Orem, Utah, a town, as Dixon describes, "where people didn't even think Boy George was gay." Dixon is a handsome blond with a theatrical voice, and he powers through his life story with a blend of self-congratulation and insecurity. This serves him less well when his autobiography decamps from Salt Lake to Los Angeles and we hit waves of tales wherein his talents are spotted, he's offered a semi-big break and he sabotages himself in fear. Dixon's journey is both topical and familiar -- who hasn't moved out to L.A. with big dreams? -- and its only surprises come from his warm support network. When the former Mormon sent out four dozen letters announcing he was gay, only two respondents were upset. Between anecdotes, Dixon belts out songs he wrote about his struggle, built around words like dreams and wings and flying. We're happy he's happy. Debra De Liso directs. (Amy Nicholson). NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (800) 595-4849.
BOYS' LIFE Watching director Dan Velez's uninspired production, it might seem hard to believe that Howard Korder's acerbic vignettes of slackers and their caddish sexcapades was a Pulitzer finalist in 1988. Which is not to denigrate either the judgment of the Pulitzer committee or the efforts of a clearly capable cast but merely to question the vision behind a revival that steamrolls the pathos and ulterior probing of an astute script into a pancake-flat excuse for sketch-comedy laughs. Jack (Ben Rovner), Don (David Rispoli) and Phil (Jason Karasev) are a trio of 30-something buddies stuck on the pot-addled threshold between perennial adolescence and defining themselves as men. The group's enabler is the married, albeit savagely cynical Jack, who goads his bachelor comrades into misadventures with women who invariably prove more than their equal. Phil is the most plaintively romantic of the bunch and therefore the most tragically susceptible to Jack's self-serving manipulations. Only slightly more resilient is Don, who surmounts a potentially fatal infidelity to finally break free of Jack's corrupting influence, thanks mainly to the understanding and maturity of his fiancée (Tori Ayres Oman). Rovner gives a standout performance, but Jack's underlying strains of fear and despair -- the comedy's critical dramatic ballast -- are too often lost in the saucy surfaces of Velez's staging. Tanya Apuya's costumes lend occasional wit, but barely perfunctory (and uncredited) lighting and Sarah Kranin's impoverished set prove more hindrance than help. (Bill Raden). Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 12. (818) 745-8527.
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; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (626) 683-6883.
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.
IT'S JUST SEX Jeff 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.
NEW REVIEW MACBETH
Photo by Amanda Marquardt
You can almost always expect generous
displays of the gleefully grotesque from the folks at Zombie Joe's, and
this production of the Bard's Scottish play is no exception. Director
Amanda Marquardt has added some ghoulish effects that neatly embellish
the play's supernatural elements. But any minimalist staging of a play,
especially Shakespeare, places much of the burden of success on the
actors, and this group doesn't quite pass muster. Aaron Lyons and Skye
Noel acquit themselves passably in the key roles of Macbeth and his
blood thirsty Lady. But there's something amiss in their onstage
chemistry; too often they give the impression of spoiled, squabbling
siblings rather than a conniving, ambitious king and queen. Some
liberties taken with the original narrative proffer some jarring
surprises and fun. The biggest problem is the overheated pacing: There
are many, many instances where the actors simply tear through their
lines, rendering them all but unintelligible and spoiling the potency
and beauty of Shakespeare's prose. The showstoppers and scene stealers
are, however, Lauren Parkinson, Nicole Fabbri and Lana Inderman, who
are from start to finish terrific as the three witches. Zombie Joe's
Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd.; N.Hlywd.; Fri., 11 p.m.
thru Aug. 20. (818) 202-4120. (Lovell Estell III)
QUICKIES T(h)REE: COMEDY AL FRESCO "Eight brand new, park-themed, 10-minute plays.". Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Aug. 27. (818) 627-8425.
STOP KISS "Love, prejudice, and women collide" in Diana Son's play.
Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.;
thru Aug. 28. (866) 811-4111.
String of Pearls Four actresses play 27 characters in Michele Lowe's drama. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 5. (818) 700-4878.
TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Suzan-Lori Parks' dark comedy about brotherly love and family identity. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Sept. 18. (866) 811-4111.
URBAN DEATH Zombie Joe's Underground's horror show. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (818) 202-4120.
A WALK IN THE WOODS Lee Blessing's play is set in Geneva, during a disarmament conference, where two negotiators seek to construct a treaty acceptable to both sides. Stodgy, naive, idealistic American John Honeyman (owlish Fox Carney) believes in rationality, and wants to make the world safe from nuclear holocaust. Andre Botvinnik (volatile Larry Eisenberg), a canny, cynical Russian with an impish sense of humor, knows the two powers, the U.S. and Russia, are more interested in seeming to want a disarmament agreement than in actually wanting one. He no longer believes in the reality of their mission, and hopes to make life more palatable by making a friend of Honeyman. He attempts amusingly frivolous conversation, but Honeyman is incapable of frivolity, and likes it that way. Their friendship can only bumble along, with two steps back for every step forward. Their debates are clever, literate and passionate, and their halting steps toward friendship are touching and funny. Richard Alan Woody directs with finesse and draws fine performances from his actors, but he never manages to convince us that the stakes are particularly high, when they couldn't be higher. (Neal Weaver). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (818) 700-4878.
GO WITCH BALL Zombie Joe's Underground's supernatural adventure through space and time. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 11. (818) 202-4120.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCESSITUATED IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNSNEW REVIEW ALIVE THEATRE LONG BEACH POPPIN' PLAY FESTIVAL For the third consecutive year the CSULB alums present four to five courses of theater per night, divided into three different prix-fixe menus. The appetizer common to all three nights, "What Can We" by Craig Abernathy, is a five-minute exploration of making theatre. The concept is interesting, but the flavors don't quite gel, so the meal gets off to a shaky start. The meat-and-potatoes main course is Nathaniel Kressen's "Jumper's with the Gypsy," a tale of two lost souls in the city that never sleeps. From the start, it's hard to invest in either character, and outside of a couple of good lines, the scenario seems contrived in its attempts at being deep. Lloyd Noonan's "An Agreement Between Father and Son" is a dark comedy in which a father and son make a pact to deal with pain-in-the-ass Grandpa. It is dark all right, relentlessly, so that darkness seems its only purpose. Finally, "Eddie, A Musical About Failure" by R. Edward and Ellen Warkentine provides the sweet ending to the evening. Unfortunately it's less a chocolate soufflé and more a bowl of vanilla ice cream. The generic score consists of series of character songs that, while amusing and fun, don't tell much of a story. In fact, the entire meal is perfectly encapsulated in a line from one of its songs: "I know it's light on consequence and plot, but it's what I've got." The Lafayette Ballroom, 528 E. Broadway Ave., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8: p.m.; through September 11. (562) 818-7364. alivetheatre.org An Alive Theatre production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
NEW REVIEW GO ALL MY SONS
With the recent BP oil disaster, the Enron debacle, and the misadventures of financial moguls like Bernard Madoff, it is no wonder that theater company artistic directors all over town are dusting off their copies of Arthur Miller's magnificent evisceration of capitalism, American corruption and moral hypocrisy. However, it is difficult to come up with new and innovative ways to present the often compelling piece. Shakespeare and Beckett, to name a pair, can be staged in a variety of settings and directorial styles, but Miller's play gets to the heart of a family standing around on a front porch next to a fallen tree. Director Edward Edwards stages his intimate and psychologically nuanced production almost like a mystery -- even during the play's seemingly banter-filled opening scenes, we sense an underlying unease and sadness; the puzzle is spotting all the clues and then piecing them together to understand what is really going on. Edwards' production is anchored by crackling acting work. Paul Linke's unusually crusty Joe Keller, the family patriarch who let an underling take the rap for a mechanical error that killed a number of pilots during World War II, is full of alpha male bluster and bonhomie, but even from his first appearance, his eyes possess a resigned coldness that suggests the truth he's hiding and has accepted only too well. In Catherine Telford's turn as Kate, Joe's grief-sick wife, we see a character whose denial-stoked belief that her beloved, MIA son will return from the war is a means of tamping down the ferocious rage that ultimately explodes in the play's final act. As Joe's idealistic son Chris, Dominic Comperatore's shyness shifts to disgusted anger, a turn that hints at the possibility he was aware on some level of his father's sleaziness. Although uneven turns are offered by some of the supporting cast, Maury Sterling's crushed boyish performance as the scorned son of the framed co-worker is brilliant, as is Austin Highsmith's unusually appealing Ann, whose shocking reveal about the dead son (often one of the more contrived plot twists in most productions) is here powerfully well-motivated and believable. Ruskin Theatre Group, 3000 Airport Road, Santa Monica Airport, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through October 2. (310) 397-3244. (Paul Birchall)
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 Sept. 19. (310) 822-8392.
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. (Neal Weaver). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 477-2055.
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.
ELIZABETH SHAKESPEARE AND THE ASTUTE DETECTIVE Alan Ross' world premiere about who really wrote the Bard's plays. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (310) 394-9779.
ENGAGEMENT In writer-director Allen Barton's unexpectedly sour romantic comedy, you can tell that the love match made in hell between smart, emotionally withholding Republican, commitment-phobe Mark (Everette Wallin) and warm, free-spirit liberal Nicole (Audrey Moore) is careening off the rails when Mark tries to propose to her at a fancy restaurant but must instead run from the table to vomit. Mark is glib, funny and negative, while Nicole dreams of a soul mate with whom she has a deep connection. And, while each partner sees the other's flaws, they also think that they will be able to change him or her into the perfect mate -- an operation that ends predictably in tears. Barton's play intends to skewer the notion of modern romance -- e.g., the characters' dealings are interspersed with complaints about Facebook and Twitter, and the inevitable diminishment of the need for human contact that these devices bring. However, more than a commentary about the superficial technical devices that add clutter to our own emotional confusion, the piece's theme truly explores a more timeless concept: the emptiness of valuing being clever over feeling. That said, Barton's writing is not always up to the challenge: The dialogue is talky and repetitious while sometimes being so stridently mean, we can't understand why either of the two lovers would stay in the same room with each other. One problem may be that Barton's coolly ironic, snarky staging never builds any sense of a love that can so quickly change to hate -- it's just hate that turns into more hate. The show is double-cast, but on the night reviewed, Wallin's snarky man-boy was strangely moving while still being thoroughly bilious, and Moore offered a nicely melancholic turn as the increasingly wearied Nicole. As her venomously embittered roomie who finds an unexpected lover herself, Ellie Schwartz delivers the show's most ferocious yet emotionally nuanced performance. (Paul Birchall). Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 19. (310) 358-9936.
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.
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; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.; thru Aug. 29, theactorsgang.com...
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 p.m.; thru Sept. 4. (310) 477-2055.
THE WAR CYCLE Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents three plays by Tom Burmester: Wounded, Nation of Two, and Gospel According to First Squad. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat..; thru Sept. 11, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
See Theater feature.