Stage Raw: CTG Managing Director Steps Down
CTG MANAGING DIRECTOR STEPS DOWN
Charles Dillingham Photo by Craig Schwartz
After 20 years of service, Charles Dillingham is stepping down as General Manager of Center Theatre Group. His tenure there ends June 30. Dillingham said "it was time to move on to new adventures, and to make room for somebody younger."
OVATION NOMINEES TO BE ANNNOUNCED October 18, 7 p.m. at the Autry National Museum in Griffith Park. Ceremony set for Monday, January 17 at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts PlazaCOMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for September 24-30, 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
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK The Group Rep presents Neil Simon's romantic comedy. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.
BETSY PARRISH CABARET Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., Sept. 30; Sat., Oct. 2. (323) 465-4446.
BOSTON MARRIAGE David Mamet's comedy of matrimony. (In the Studio Theatre.). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; opens Sept. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (562) 494-1014.
BROADWAY BOUND Neil Simon's 1986 follow-up to Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues.. The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego; Fri., Sept. 24, 7 p.m., schedule varies; thru Nov. 7. (619) 231-1941.
BROOKLYN, USA Crime melodrama by John Bright and Asa Bordages. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; opens Sept. 24; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, brooklynusa-theplay.org. (323) 469-3113.
DANCING WITH CRAZIES Written and performed by Amy Milano. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 29; Wed.-Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 4, plays411.com/dancingwithcrazies. (323) 960-7785.
DYING IS EASY, COMEDY IS HARD Nick Ullett's solo show. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 27; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 25. (323) 852-1445.
FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE Jazz musical with lyrics and music by Louis Jordan, including "Let the Good Times Roll," "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" and "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie.". Center Stage Theatre, 8463 Sierra Ave., Fontana; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, centerstagefontana.com. (909) 429-7469.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER Henrik Ibsen sequel by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q ). Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 828-7519.
HAMLET, PRINCE OF PUDDLES All-ages adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Sat., noon.; thru Oct. 30. (213) 389-3856.
HELLO World- premiere of Stefan Marks' comedic drama. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 30. (888) 210-0183.
LEAP OF FAITH World-premiere musical based on the 1992 Steve Martin movie, music by Alan Menken, book by Janus Cercone with Glenn Slater, and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 26; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (213) 628-2772.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE Shakespeare's problem play. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 2 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 13, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Oct. 14, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 4, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 13, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 14, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 18, 8 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 19, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 4, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 5, 2 p.m.. (818) 240-0910.
MEDIDATIONS: EVA HESS Interdisciplinary performance work by Marcie Begleiter. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Sept. 24, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 25, 3 & 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
A NAUGHTY NIGHT An evening of risqué cabaret, featuring specialty acts and burlesque.". Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., Sept. 30, 9 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, book by Richard Stilgoe and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Sat., Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (213) 365-3500.
PHONE WHORE Cameryn Moore's slice-of-life comedy-drama. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A.; Sept. 24-25, 7:15 p.m.. (323) 525-0661.
THE RECKONING "One plantation, two families, so many secrets." Written by Kimba Henderson. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (866) 811-4111.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Oct. 16. (310) 281-8337.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE Action! Theatre Company presents the Kurt Vonnegut classic, adapted by Eric Simonson. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 23, action-theatre.com. (213) 393-5638.
STATE OF THE UNION Pulitzer Prize-winning political/romantic comedy by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 31, interactla.org. (877) 369-9112.
STILTZ! The MusicalMusic and lyrics by Deborah Johnson. Actors Forum Theatre, 10655 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (323) 822-7898.
SUSAN EGAN Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Wed., Sept. 29, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Sept. 30, 7 p.m.. (562) 985-7000.
SULTAN'S BATTERY Fresh Baked Theatre Company presents Kathy Rucker's mystical whodunit. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Sept. 24; Fri.-Sun..; thru Oct. 17. (818) 761-0704.
TAKE ME OUT Richard Greenberg's story of race, homophobia, and baseball. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 24; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 31. (323) 957-1884.
THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG Reprise Theatre Company presents Jason Alexander in Neil Simon's musical, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. UCLA Freud Playhouse, Macgowan Hall, Westwood; opens Sept. 29; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 825-2101.
VALENTINO VALENTINA World premiere of Carlo Allen's romantic comedy. Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; opens Sept. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, plays411.com/valentino. (323) 960-7712.
WAITING FOR LEFTY Clifford Odets' Depression-years drama. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; opens Sept. 24; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 16, calrep.org. (562) 985-5526.
Why Things BurnWritten and directed by Ric Krause. Resv. required: (323) 954-9400. The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Wed., Sept. 29, 7 p.m.. (323) 954-9400.
WELCOME TO ARRROYO'S West Coast premiere by Kristoffer Diaz. The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego; Thurs., Sept. 30, 7 p.m., schedule varies; thru Oct. 31. (619) 231-1941.
All in the TimingDavid Ives' collection of seven short plays. Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica; Sept. 24-25; Oct. 1-2. (310) 656-8070.
YARD SALE SIGNS Rogue Machine presents Jennie Webb's world premiere. (In rep with MilkMilkLemonade. ). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Sept. 25; Thurs., Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 960-4424.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
CLORICH LEACHMAN: A ONE-WOMAN SHOW The comedy legend reflects on her life and career. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Through Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 2 p.m.. (949) 497-2787.
DEBBIE REYNOLDS: ALIVE AND FABULOUS The movie legend's solo show, with a star-studded Thalians Red Carpet Celebrity Evening, Sept. 24. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (818) 508-0281.
ELEKTRA Sophocles' Greek tragedy, in a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 440-7300.
GO THE GLASS MENAGERIE Director Gordon Edelstein's dynamic, iconoclastic revival of Tennessee Williams' revered, 1944 memory play arrives at the Mark Taper Forum trailing a tempest of controversy. Edelstein's greatest liberty -- and, to traditionalists, his most brazen and polarizing sacrilege -- is to reconceive the narrative from the point of view of an older, more worldly Tom Wingfield (a riveting Patch Darragh) in the act of writing the play. Tom's famous "tricks in my pocket" opening monologue is now delivered at the typewriter, haltingly, the words captured in the moment of inspiration on Michael Yeargan's austerely appointed, wallpaper-scrim, one-room set that doubles for the Wingfields' St. Louis tenement apartment. The conceit may not be strictly Williams, but by foregrounding the action with this potent reminder of the autobiographical dimensions lurking behind the drama, Edelstein succeeds in repainting the bittersweet Wingfield family portrait as a fascinating portrait of the artist in which Williams' alter ego, Tom, shares center stage. As such, Judith Ivey's matriarch, Amanda, is nothing short of a triumph. In Ivey's hands, the smothering, narcissistic, faded Southern belle is energized with heretofore unrealized notes of wit and charm -- just the sort of overpowering personality capable of crushing a fragile, sensitive ego like Laura (the fine Keira Keeley) or igniting the artistic genius of her more resilient son. The payoff to Edelstein's invention comes in the "gentleman caller" scene, whose original pathos is delivered with the additional ironic wink that all three Wingfields are vying for the romantic attentions of the lunkheaded Jim (Ben McKenzie). Jennifer Tipton's moody, low-key lighting and Martin Pakledinaz's outstanding costumes complete what may not be an orthodox Menagerie but one that may just be definitive. (Bill Raden). 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 Oct. 17. (213) 628-2772.
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., Sept. 25, 5 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 2, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (562) 494-1014.
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 Sept. 26. (310) 208-5454.
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 Juilliard 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. (Amy Nicholson). Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Sat., Sept. 25, 4 p.m.. (310) 455-3723.
MISALLIANCE George Bernard Shaw's courtship comedy. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (714) 708-5555.NEW REVIEW MYSTERIOUS SKIN In Prince Gomolvilas' harrowing drama, a young man is troubled by fractured memories in which he believes he was kidnapped and tortured by aliens as a child. Attempting to piece together his past, Brian (Scott Keiji Takeda) befriends Avalyn (Elizabeth Liang), a geeky young woman gleefully obsessed with tales of alien abduction. The more Brian talks with her, the more he remembers. Meanwhile, another young guy Neil (David Huynh) moves to New York from sleepy Kansas and dabbles in prostitution, much to the dismay of his best friend Wendy (Christine Corpuz). When Brian tracks down his childhood friend Neil, he learns that the truth of what happened when they were kids is more horrifying than the disturbing mystery. Director Tim Dang makes good use of designer Alan E. Muraoka's stylized set of chain-link fencing, dominated by a massive, blue full moon that also serves as a projection screen. Dang also keeps us alert with startlingly loud sound effects and elicits fine performances from his mostly young cast. But the play, with its rapid-fire dialogue exchanges, thunders along like a freight train to a grim destination. Perhaps Gomolvilas cleaves too closely to his source material, Scott Heim's presumably autobiographical first novel, because real people don't actually talk like this. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Liang beautifully captures the awkward effusion of adolescence with her portrayal of Avalyn, offering some bright and funny moments within this profoundly tragic tale. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., downtown; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (213) 625-7000. (Pauline Adamek)
RADOSLAW RYCHIK/STEFAN ZEROMSKI THEATRE: IN THE SOLITUDE OF COTTON FIELDS "Two seductive frontmen for an edgy art-rock band have more than singing on their minds in this theatrical tour de force, fueled by the live music of Poland's cult rock band Natural Born Chillers.". REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Through Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.
GO THE RENDEZVOUS It's been nearly 20 years since New burlesque emerged from the cauldron of the L.A. and New York underground rock and dance-club scenes, which now makes it old enough to be a freshman in women's studies at UCLA and NYU. Director, choreographer, show creator and lead dancer, Lindsley Allen (Pussycat Dolls) gives an eye-popping, postgraduate demonstration of the nouvelle bump and grind as she leads her faculty of Cherry Boom Boom dancers through a raucous evening of retro-themed, terpsichorean tease. And what's not to like about sitting in a Hollywood Boulevard nightclub and watching a chorus of sexy women dressed to the nines in the fetishistic camp of skimpy, Anne Closs-Farley costumes, while lip-synching, shimmying and shaking for 75 minutes to rock & roll and exotica classics on designer Francois-Pierre Couture's seamy-noir set? Extra credit goes to Kelleia Sheerin's sleight-of-hips strip while gyrating inside a Hula-hoop; Ruthy Inchaustegui's gravity-defying, aerial sling dance; and Sharon Ferguson leading a line of corseted dominatrixes through a B&D whip number, fittingly set to the Cramps' "Queen of Pain." Ferguson doubles as the evening's breezy, Texas Guinan-esque emcee, while Angela Berliner and Brian Kimmet do exemplary narrative duty in an engaging, bad-date comedy pantomime threaded between the dance numbers. David Robbins' high-decibel sound and Sean Forrester's kinetic lights set an appropriately louche, red-light mood. (Bill Raden). King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Last Thursday of every month, 9 p.m.; thru Dec. 30. (323) 960-5765.NEW REVIEW GO RUINED
The structure of Lynn Nottage's powerful drama is like that of so many play set in bars and brothels - there's the owner, the employees and the denizens. They tell stories. A fight breaks out, and somebody gets hurt, or killed. It's almost stock, except that here, the bar/brothel is situated in a rural outpost in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mama Nadi (Portia) seriously believes that by her no-weapons-allowed policy, and her open door to both government and rebel soldiers, will somehow protect her from the civil war's inevitable, inexorable swath of destruction. And Portia's performance is so searing and muscular, you almost believe her. One of her diminutive and slightly oily salesman clients, Christian (Russel G. Jones), comes with two young women as prospective "employees". Beautiful Sophie (Condola Rashad) has the eyes and stature of a gazelle, which may have been responsible for how she came to "ruined" (reproductively) by unspecified marauding soldiers, so she needs to be spared from sexual intercourse. She's obtained a marked limp and every move is accompanied by a silent grimace. Her salable asset is her singing voice, which gives flight to her agony. The other woman is Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), a gravel voiced waif so beaten down, one eye is virtually sealed shut. The establishment is terrorized by the rebel leader, Jerome Kisembe (Tongayi Chirisa) and his government rival, Cammander Osembenga (David St. Louis) who, aside from their political rivalry, appear to be competing in the sweepstakes for self-importance. This is a bar saturated with sexual politics: Salima's husband, Fortune (Carl Cofield), shows up to reclaim his bride from the brothel, after he spurned her following her brutal rape by soldiers. Should she go back to him, and the village that similarly abandoned her in her moment of degradation and despair? More remarkable than the trajectory of the story are the tones emanating from the production, under Kate Whoriskey's staging. The first comes from the onstage guitarist (Simon Shabantu Kashama) and drummer (Ron McBee) that juxtapose conversations and arguments with the sway and lilt of Dominic Kanza's original music, Nottage's lyrics, and Warren Adams' erotic choreography. Then, the performers themselves generate a layer of protective callousness, the armor of a region where life is always ending, or being mutilated. The larger question is whether that cynical veneer can be scratched in order to allow intimacy to invade these hardened hearts. That's not a rhetorical question in this production, but a visceral one. Derek McLane's set of bright, broken colors and mismatching wooden furniture anchors the locale with the thick trunks of palm trees, like the legs of elephants standing around and watching, bemused. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 208-5454. Co-produced with Intiman Theatre. (Steven Leigh Morris)
THE THREE MUSKATEERS Alexandre Dumas' swashbuckler. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 3, 3:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (310) 455-3723.
GO WAITING FOR LEFTY This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document and solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theater audience, and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era -- corruption, deprivation, injustice and wars between the haves and have-nots -- haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16 wonderfully able actors, who provide the kind of gritty passion and vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union, where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a strike, while the rank-and-file are determined to field their own leader, activist Lefty. Along the way we're introduced to a rich cross-section of Depression-era society, until the meeting erupts in violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the seemingly authentic, uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with nostalgia. (Neal Weaver). Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 851-7977.
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. A Troubadour Theatre Company production. (Pauline Adamek). Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (818) 955-8101.
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 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' SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
BAIL ME OUT Auto shop proprietor Joe Bidone (playwright Renato Biribin Jr.) views the world with a sense of bewildered grievance and betrayal. Straight, married and a practicing Catholic, he's resentful of gays, blacks and other minorities whose ongoing demands for equal rights he finds personally intrusive and unwarranted. So he's appalled -- though not totally surprised -- when his longtime buddy Ray (Scott Alan Hislop) comes out, then pleads for Joe's help in cementing a relationship with his newfound love, Shaun (Terrance Jones), a married man. Launched from this awkward encounter, the drama proceeds through a labyrinthine series of subplots involving homophobia, racism, noxious born-again religion, suicide, murder and abortion. There's no lack of misogyny, either -- so viciously spouted by Joe's employee, Troy (Gary Wolf), that Joe appears comparatively enlightened. Biribin deserves credit for tackling social issues and for striving for an in-depth portrait of a little guy in chaos. Unfortunately the play's ambitions outrun its execution. Its main problem is melodramatic overload, with just too many issues, too many events and too many contrivances packed into less than two hours. Directed by Joshua Fardon, the production is constrained by limited space and lighting. Carisa Engle as Joe's common-sense wife furnishes welcome respite from the Sturm und Drang elsewhere. And Jones overcomes the inconsistencies built into his character, persuasively depicting a bisexual bar-hopping minister, unctuously proselytizing one minute while fiercely brawling the next. (Deborah Klugman). Hudson Guild Theater, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.;
thru Oct. 10, plays411.com/bailmeout. (323) 960-7745.
GO BEAST ON THE MOON Richard Kalinoski's tender play centers on two survivors of the Armenian genocide. Aram Tomasian (Zadran Walli) witnessed the beheading of all his family. Now he's escaped from Turkey to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and set himself up as a photographer. He's obsessed with producing a family to replace the one he lost, and has ordered a 15-year-old picture bride, Seta (Olga Konstantulakis), from an Armenian orphanage. She's profoundly grateful to him for rescuing her via a proxy marriage, but she too is traumatized. She saw her mother crucified, and her sister raped by a Turkish soldier, so she's terrified of sex. And Aram is fanatically determined to duplicate the rigid authoritarianism of his dead father. Kalinoski sensitively calibrates the stages by which a difficult alliance between two oddly matched people becomes a real marriage. Walli brings to his role a boyish charm, which tempers his arrogant rigidity, while Konstantulakis skillfully traces the arc from terrified teenager to strong, resilient woman. John Cirigliano is engaging as both an older gentleman who tells their story, and his younger self -- an orphan boy befriended by Seta. Sarah Register provides the authentic-seeming period clothes. (Neal Weaver). Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17...
NEW REVIEW THE BIRTHDAY BOYS
In playwright Aaron Kozak's drama, three young soldiers performing routine guard duties in the Baghdad "Green Zone" are kidnapped by several swarthy, Keffiyeh-wearing thugs, who whisk them to a creepy warehouse for "interrogation." Tied, blindfolded, and left on their own in a filthy storeroom, the three young men desperately struggle to escape, while also attempting to resolve rising resentments amongst each other. Angry young Private Lance (Trevor St. John David) is furious with his best buddy Private Carney (Nando Betancur) for trying to cut and run, while a third hostage, Private Guillette (James Ryen) tries to figure out a sensible way to save their skins. However, the stakes rise as a sinister terrorist goon (Ali Saam) arrives to break down the three military men. To director Kozak's credit, the production's claustrophobic, boiler room-like trappings and the increasing desperation of the hostages artfully establish a taut, suspenseful mood. As the three soldiers wriggle, curse, and fret, we share in "real time" the sense of foreboding that nothing good is going to happen to them. Yet, Kozak's work as a playwright rarely rises above the workmanlike, and the piece's dismayingly bloated writing and slight incidents strain to fill out the show's two acts. Worse, without giving too much away, the final scenes rely on a clumsy plot twist that's so contrived, it undercuts almost any good will that the cast might have built up to that point. The play ultimately turns into a overlong episode of Scare Tactics, but with fewer dramatic incidents. Still, the ensemble work is appealing, with Betancur's shy Carney, a character who discovers unexpected depths of bravery when confronted with an appalling circumstances, being nicely offset by Saam's lusciously wicked terrorist. Theater Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (800) 838-3006. (Paul Birchall)
CANDIDA George Bernard Shaw's look at love and marriage. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 667-0955.
COMEDY DEATH RAY $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 8:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
DAVID: THE MUSICAL When reviewing the premiere of a new musical, one must be ever cognizant of the amount of work that has gone into its creation. Fully scored, booked and staged musicals take an almost astonishing amount of effort and audacity to execute -- and this can be all the more upsetting when the outcome is as misbegotten as is this near-incoherent adaptation of the story of the Old Testament's King David, his seduction of the beautiful Bathsheba, and his despair over his wayward sons Absalom and Amnon. Or, at least, that appears to be what the musical is about: Director Adam T. Rosencrance's production is in modern dress, which is not necessarily an unimaginative idea, but the presentation of the story is utterly without context -- the Biblical incidents are merely strung together with little dramatic development, psychological subtext or convincing emotion. One moment, Dane Bowman's oddly wooden David is crowned king, the next he's seducing Sara Collins' almost comically Valley girl-like Bathsheba. Other performers take on multiple roles -- but the character changes are disjointed and without explanation, often accomplished merely by an actor donning a new jacket or shirt, and not changing his actual personality. Thus, we start to wonder why David's servant Caleb (Austin Grehan) is suddenly one of the assassins plotting his demise, or why David's son Amnon (J. D. Driscill) shows up as a spear-carrying soldier in the Hittite army. The score, credited to Costanza, Tim Murner, Rich Lyle and Michelle Holmes, is a workmanlike mix of heavy-metal rock anthems and hard country ballads ably rendered by the rock band Pullman Standard, but the numbers are all lyric-driven, and the singing is miserably drowned out by the hyperamplified sound system. More dismaying than the lack of coherence, though, is the lack of Goliath, who is barely mentioned in the play and whose absence seems like a painfully missed dramatic opportunity -- like trying to tell the story of World War II without a Nazi. Some of the show's early production flaws may iron themselves out over the course of the run -- one of the main actors was still lugging his script about like a Torah throughout the entire performance, for example. (Paul Birchall). Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (800) 838-3006.NEW REVIEW DEAR HARVEY
Playwright Patricia Loughrey was commissioned by San Diego's LGBT Diversionary Theatre to create this tribute to San Francisco gay activist, organizer and political figure Harvey Milk on the 30th anniversary of his death. Loughrey chose a documentary format, relying entirely on primary sources: Milk's writings and speeches, and the testimony of his ardent supporters, including fellow activist and creator of the AIDS quilt, Cleve Jones, and Milk's campaign adviser Anne Kronenberg -- and occasionally his passionate detractors. The all-black set, wreathed in votive candles, suggests a memorial service, with emphasis on celebration rather than grief. Many events are familiar-- Milk's successful campaign to defeat Proposition 6, which would have barred gays and lesbians from teaching in California schools, his alliance with San Francisco Mayor Moscone, their deaths at the hands of disgruntled homophobe Dan White, and the massive out-pouring of rage when White received a minimal sentence due to the infamous "twinkie" defense. But the use of the words of people who were there lends color, humor and authenticity. For director Anthony Frisina and his large, able ensemble, this is clearly a labor of love, assisted by a musical score by Thomas Hodges. Actor John Meeks plays Milk throughout, while the other roles are divided among the ensemble. Lee Strasberg Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m; produced by The Beat Project. (323) 960-7782 or plays411.com/dearharvey. (Neal Weaver)
NEW REVIEW DON GIOVANNI TONIGHT, DON CARLO TOMORROW
Fans of Robert Altman may take a kindlier view of playwright Dennis Miles' sprawling minimally plotted comedy than this critic, who found his spoof of a company of opera singers to be meandering letdown. The action unfolds backstage in a concert hall and concerns the neurotic obsessions and carryings-on among the various players. A jealous feud between singers Maria (Jennifer Kenyon) and Claudia (Kimberly Atkinson) comes to an end when the bombastic company manager (Joseph Back) fires Claudia for miming her lyrics instead of singing them. A voluptuous tease (Marianne Davis) parades her body non-stop for her lover (Pete Caslavka) and, when he's not around, for anyone else. An existentially minded player (Gregory Sims) obsesses to one and all about aging and death; a bearded stage veteran (Greg Wall) bursts into an impassioned, non sequitur monologue about a man unjustly incarcerated in a 19th century prison for 30 years. Under Kiff Scholl's direction, each role is skillfully played, with Wall's speech - perhaps the meatiest juncture in the script - an emotional highlight. Overall, however, the story lines are so skimpy, the characters so thin and the humor so tame that there's just so much the performers can do to compel our attention. The production aims for a Breughel-like canvas effect, with most of the large ensemble on stage all the time, pretending to some activity. Terence McFadden's set is artful in its shabby disarray, but its cluttered busyness only compounds the challenge to find a focus. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 281-8337. (Deborah Klugman)
ELEVATOR Michael Leoni's story of seven strangers stuck in a lift. Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 960-7787.
FIVE WOMEN WEARING THE SAME DRESS Alan Ball's bridal comedy. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 465-0383.
FLASH FESTIVAL Presented by Chalk Repertory Theatre. Full schedule at ChalkRep.com. Mount Hollywood Congregational Church, 4607 Prospect Ave., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (323) 663-6577.
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.
GROUNDLINGS WILDCARD SHOW Which Groundlings show will you get on Thursday night? It's completely random:: Chest Voice, S#!t My Folks Don't Know, Mitch & Edior, Straight to Video . Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs., 10 p.m.; thru Dec. 2. (323) 934-9700.
IT ALL MAKES SENSE A drag comedy romp starring David LeBarron ("Luscious"), Christopher Baughman ("Sunday Morning") and Gordon Vandenberg ("Empress"). Cavern Club Theater at Casita del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Sept. 29, theatreisadrag.com. (323) 969-2530.
GO JEWTOPIA It's been a little more than seven years since the long-running original comedy was last seen in the City of Angels. This revival is far more compact, less jaunty and slightly more cerebral. Nonetheless, the show is even funnier. It starts when childhood buddies Chris O'Connell and Adam Lipschitz (Conor Dubin and Adam Korson) happen across each other at a party for Jewish singles. Chris, a Catholic, says that he wants to marry a Jew so he "never has to make another decision," while the socially inept Adam is on the scene only to please his nagging mother, who wants him to find a nice Jewish girl. So the guys make a pact: Chris will show Adam the finer points of picking up women, if Adam will reciprocate by showing Chris the particulars of being Jewish. It's a scenario fully charged with comedic possibilities, and writer-director Bryan Fogel mines it for all its subterranean treasures -- taking aim at cultural stereotypes, customs, P.C. junkies. Korson and Dubin have magnetic chemistry and formidable skills. Rounding out a splendid cast are Thea Brooks, Bart Braverman, Cheryl David, Mark Sande and Cheryl Daro. (Lovell Estell III). Greenway Court Theater, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 14. (323) 655-7679.
JUNGMADEL: HITLER'S LITTLE GIRLS Laurel Long's story of the Hitler Youth's youngest girl division. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 595-4849.
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.
NEW REVIEW GO LA RAZON BLINDADA (THE ARMORED REASON)
How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas' drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80 minute one act in which two incarcerated men come together to role play - one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). Throughout the actors remain seated, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival -- not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which, their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's "Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra" to underscore the pathos. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (800) 838-3006. (Deborah Klugman)
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.
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG Actors Co-op presents Stephen Sondheim's version of the 1934 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 24. (323) 462-8460.
MOTHER Writer-performer Mary-Beth Manning's musings on her mom. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (323) 960-7714.
GO THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP It's been 18 years since this manor mystery was the No. 1-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. 26. (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 Oct. 2. (213) 614-0556.NEW REVIEW PIECES OF ME
Loretta Devine has worn many hats during her three decades as an entertainer, working on Broadway (she originated the role of Lorell in Dreamgirls), starring in numerous television roles, and appearing in scads of movies on the big screen. Here, she brings her considerable talents to an evening of poems, songs and autobiographical anecdotes, not all of which are engaging, but her singing voice offers serious compensation for that. She also possesses an enthralling, charismatic personality and sense of humor. Devine gives a sketchy but interesting survey of her early life in Houston growing up in a family of females, and the challenges she faced becoming a singer and performer. Some segments are nothing but slide presentations showing Devine at different junctures in her career; there is also a collage of celebrity photos that are only vaguely entertaining. Devine is at her best when crooning about matters of the heart. "Panties and Pearls and Trilogy" recount the highs, lows and deceptions attendant on a bittersweet love affair. "My Father," is a heart wrenching homage, and "Except for the Grace," serves up a powerfully evocative mediation on the homeless and hopeless, embellished by haunting still shots of destitute people. Stage 52 Theater, 5299 W. Washington Blvd., Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 & 7 p.m., thru Oct. 3.plays411.com/lorettadevine (323) 960-7780. (Lovell Estell III)
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.
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.
GO SOMETHING TO CROW ABOUT! The Bob Baker Marionette Theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a puppet theater for "children of all ages." This 50-year-old production presents a day on the farm, in the shape of a musical revue. In addition to the farmers, Mama and Papa Goat, it features 100 farm critters, including singing watermelons, dancing frogs, a flirtatious fox and Dodo the flapper crow, complete with rolled stockings and a voice provided, via recordings, by Betty Boop. Other "guest" voices include Eve Arden and Pearl Bailey, latter providing the voice for Heloise Horse in her rendition of "It Takes Two to Tango." Also featured is the novelty song "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch," sung by Petunia and danced by a chorus of Onions. Baker's stage is a cabaret-style in-the-round, allowing audience interaction, with the black-clad puppeteers plainly visible. The show is lavish but tailored to fit the taste of its young audiences, who are served ice cream after the show. The puppets are handsome and clever, and there are plenty of the lame jokes dear to young children, but there's also wit that will appeal to adults. (Birthday parties are welcomed on weekends, with presents for the birthday child.) (Neal Weaver)., $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.
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 Sept. 26. (323) 653-6886.NEW REVIEW TRUE WEST
Usually birthdays are occasions for celebration in which the aging honoree is the recipient of gifts, cake, good wishes and lots of brazen, barefaced flattery. And while there are some ingratiating aspects to the party director Aliah Whitmore throws for the 30th anniversary of Sam Shepard's 1980 sibling-rivalry satire, her decidedly uneven production could hardly be considered a gift. The deceptive comic naturalism of Shepard's tale about two brothers locked in psychological, siege warfare camouflages a far more serious allegory on the inherent schizophrenia of artistic identity. So the director's decision to lavish this symbolic drama with the hyper-detailed, trompe-l'œil realism of production designer Jacob Whitmore's rambling, overly-busy, suburban-house set (replete with a never-used stairway to nowhere) is the first hint at the bumpy ride ahead. The evening's flattery comes in the form of the mutton-chopped Andrew Patton, who brings a swaggering menace to the role of the older, vagabond brother, Lee. If Lee smolders, however, Andre Verderame's screenwriter brother, Austin, is something of a wet blanket. Instead of Shepard's edgy intellectual, Aliah Whitmore has Verderame play him as a weepy, whining mama's boy -- a choice that proves all but fatal to the climactic merging of the brothers' identities. The fine Mike Genovese provides equal measures of sleaze and breeze as the movie producer, Saul Kimmer, while lighting designer Bob Primes succeeds in preventing the actors from drowning in the ocean of superfluous stage scenery. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 939-9220. A Whitmore Eclectic production. (Bill Raden)
WAIT UNTIL DARK 2010Paul J. Grace presents Fredrick Knott's classic thriller. Theater 6470 at the Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (626) 272-2075.
WAITING FOR GODOT Sir Peter Hall, Britain's acknowledged master stager of Samuel Beckett's towering foundational text of the modern theater, has been quoted as saying, "All actors should have played Hamlet and been in Godot ." By "all," of course, Hall didn't mean "any" but rather only the most seasoned and accomplished of players. Regrettably, it's an attitude not shared by director Timothy McNeil, whose excruciatingly tone-deaf, pasteboard production mostly obliterates Beckett's delicate musicality, rhythms and underlying tenderness through miscasting, mugging and unfathomable directing choices. McNeil's laughs-at-any-cost approach violently distorts the play's central, comic duet between tramps Vladimir (Andy Wagner) and Estragon (Alain Villeneuve) -- a comedy based in the pair's desperation to combat the boredom and fill the awful silence of their titular wait -- into crude, knockabout shtick. Rather than suggesting the antagonistic synchronicity of lifelong, road-weary sidekicks, Wagner and Villeneuve rarely seem to be on the same stage, never mind the same page. In Wagner's hands, the sensitive, intellectual Didi is reduced to an antic village idiot, robbing Villeneuve's otherwise well-grounded Gogo of his pretension-deflating bite. The evening's coup de gr<0x00E2>ce, however, is delivered by Charles Pacello, whose wild-eyed, off-the-leash Pozzo plays less like Beckett's "big, brutal bully" than a horror-movie Billy Zane on meth. By comparison, Pozzo's inexplicably Tourette's-afflicted slave, Lucky (a far-too-green Deshik Vansadia) seems a masterwork of dramatic subtlety. plays411.com/waitingforgodot. (Bill Raden). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. (323) 960-7770.
WATER Two soldiers, an American and an Iraqi, find themselves in adjacent cells in a Baghdad prison, by Marios Stilianakis. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (323) 960-7711.
NEW REVIEW GO THE WEB
This paranoid fantasy by Michael John Garcės tells a wildly baroque tale of identity theft. New Yorker Chris Quinones (Ian Forester) discovers, while trolling the internet, that there is another Chris Quinones out there, whose story and vital statistics are almost identical to his own. Suddenly he's being harassed and questioned by two mysterious men, Kepesh (Edgar Landa, who choreographed the brutal fight scenes) and Warner (Justin Huen, who doubles effectively as a super-sadistic Paraguayan thug), who apparently think he's the other Chris. They're also hassling his best friend (Tony Sancho) and his girl-friend (Betsy Reisz). Meanwhile, his apartment is invaded by Arrowsmith (Stan Kelly), who claims to be working for the FBI, NYPD, and the CIA. Arrowsmith saddles Chris with a mysterious, wounded femme fatale (Amanda Zarr), and a very large gun, and Chris finds himself renditioned to Paraguay, in the midst of a drug war. Nothing is what it seems, and contradictions breed like rabbits. For a while it seems Garcės is simply indulging in obfuscation for its own sake, but eventually things start to add up. Director Alyson Roux has assembled a top-notch, energetic cast, and deploys them with speed and precision. All tech credits are excellent. Art/Works Theater, 6567 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 5 p.m., thru October 17. Produced by Needtheater. (323) 795-2215 or needtheater.org (Neal Weaver)
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 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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (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 Oct. 17...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ANAIS: AN EROTIC EVENING WITH ANAIS NIN The famously candid diaries of Anaïs Nin avoid one weekend in the '50s, when she left L.A. for a weekend in Arizona, purpose unknown. Sonia Maslovskaya's one-woman show -- written and directed by Michael Phillips -- imagines that Nin secretly visited a sanitarium housing June Miller, the calculating beauty who anchored one end of Nin's love triangle with author Henry Miller. (Nin's own cuckolded husband, Hugo, was a bystander.) The lithe Maslovskaya vamps in vintage dress as she accounts Nin's sexual awakening -- and humbling -- in 1930s Paris at the hands of the two Millers in imagined conversations with June's therapist, Henry, and later, June herself. Anaïs is a tale of love dangled just out of reach and a florid, earnest feat of memorization by Maslovskaya, but it's a little too self-conscious to seduce the audience. The one-sided dialogue cripples the play as performed alone: Nin seems less like a besotted, swayed suitor and more like a narcissistic chatterbox. Tellingly, this unflappable eroticist is most taken aback when the therapist says he's never heard of her. (Amy Nicholson). Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 15, . (818) 506-9863.
BERNARD BRAGG: WORLD STAGE Stage stories performed in ASL with voice interpretation. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Through Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 26, 2 p.m....
BILLIE: BACKSTAGE WITH LADY DAY Life and times of jazz singer Billie Holiday (Synthia L. Hardy). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 19. (323) 960-4418.
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.; thru Sept. 25. (626) 256-3809.
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.
LA VIE EN ROUTE Written by Mark Harvey Levin and directed by Carlos Martinez, these seven vignettes show flashes of promise, but the end product is a disappointment. Apparent from the outset is a startling dearth of narrative coherency and imagination in the writing, the upside being energetic cast performances. "School of Thought," which opens the bill, is nothing more than a chaotic gathering of actors posing as fish. "Ladies of the Evening" is a bit better with Tasi McGuire (who performs well throughout), as a call girl on the make, and Josh Morrison playing the role of the mark. "Cabfare for the Common Man," takes up a similar theme but is a mess from start to finish, with Morrison stuck in a cab packed with a zany assortment of characters, including some sexy gals, during a night out. The most inspiring thing here is the crusty, garrulous cabbie, played by David Shackelford, who returns in the best-written, funniest piece of the night, "The Rental." Here, Shackelford portrays a paid boy toy for a lonely woman (Alexis Kupka). "Superhero" makes a descent into bludgeoning tedium with Jude Evans as a caped do-gooder in a strange encounter with Rachel (Deidre Moore). "L.A. 8. A.M," is no better, with Evans and Dana Bretz as a couple navigating the boredom of their morning routine. "Prodigal Cow" has Moore and McGuire in a dull riff on certain kinds of food. (Lovell Estell III). Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (818) 766-9100.
LOVE, SEX, AND VIOLENCE TOO Short plays by Czech-American playwright Helena Cerny. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 17, theatermania.com. (866) 811-4111.
MACBETH 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. (Lovell Estell III). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Sept. 24. (818) 202-4120.
MARTYRDUMB It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where playwrights Kerr Seth Lordygan and Jason Britt's sophomoric cartoon of a madcap terrorism satire first crosses the not-so-fine line between provocative irreverence and repellent offensiveness. Suffice it to say that well before the intermission, the play's collection of crudely lampooned stereotypes racks up enough religious blasphemies to inspire a dozen fatwa denunciations, not to mention the host of homophobic slanders and misogynistic misdemeanors committed in the name of its ill-conceived, taboo-twisted gags. Act I follows the blundering, plastique-packing religious fanatic, Apneo (Patrick Alan), as he seizes the lobby of a business-park office building during a suicide-bombing attempt. Although not an Arab, the name of his nonsensical religious cult, Islamanology -- an unsubtle amalgam of Islam and Scientology -- leaves little doubt as to the intended target of the writers' ridicule. Despite the blundering and bickering attempts of Apneo's strangely accommodating hostages to talk the bomber out of his mission, the resulting, accidental detonation finds only security guard Nason (Mason Hallberg) surviving into Act 2. That's when Lordygan and Britt shift gears into a broad parody of a CSI-styled police procedural, as the victims reemerge as the bumbling investigators of the scatologically named antiterrorist unit, F.A.R.T., with equally unsavory and catastrophic results. Director Maria Markosov only exacerbates an already witless text devoid of political or religious insight by a mistaken belief that louder and faster somehow equals funnier. A clever set by Marco De Leon and inventive lighting by John Dickey can do little to ameliorate this painful, shrill misfire. (Bill Raden). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (818) 508-3003.NEW REVIEW GO OF GRAPES AND NUTS
Humor a la Joad comes to Burbank in this revival of a parodic hybrid between two of John Steinbeck's best-known novels, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Written by Doug Armstrong, Keith Cooper and Tom Willmorth, the plotline is loosely that of The Grapes of Wrath, following Tom Joad (Ian Vogt) the Joad family on their trek from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. The primary additions from Of Mice and Men are the characters of Lenny (David Reynolds), Candy (David Ghilardi), and Curly (Kimberly Van Luin). Director Paul Stroili, part of the original 1990 Chicago cast, lets his actors go full bore into an over-the-top campiness that winks heavily at the gritty realism of the source material. The self-made frontier ethos is particularly lampooned in a production that gets mileage from both the sly anachronistic jokes in the script and the gusto with which the cast tackles them. Casey Kramer, as Ma Joad, has some particularly hilarious rants, as does Lauren McCormack, who plays the womanizing preacher Jim Casy. Reynolds portrays dim-witted Lenny with such earnestness that we can't help but like him, and Ghilardi (who plays four roles) and Jen Ray (playing both a bulldozer driver and a waitress) showcase their versatility. Even David George's wooden grape crate of a set is comical, providing an appropriate backdrop to a show that puts the "funny" in the "bone" dry Dust Bowl. The Little Vic Theatre at The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru October 24. (818) 623-6666. www.seaglasstheatre.org A Sea Glass Theatre production (Mayank Keshaviah)
THE SECRET OF FIFTY, FATHERHOOD AND FACEBOOK In his solo performance, writer-star Vince Cefalu wants to tell you his story. Decades ago, after years of buttoning up and curling lips into a smile, Americans' cheeks started aching. In additional to a swath of personal confessions in pop lit and on TV talk shows, a new subgenre of theater sprung up at the same time: personal war stories, "My Turn" essays and "It Happened to Me" segments. But as the market became saturated with such, only the most spectacular train wrecks, like James Frey's heavily decorated 2003 addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces , caused us to press our faces against the windows as we drove past. That being said, we do love an I'm-still-standing story, no matter how humble. The story doesn't have to be gasp-worthy to have traction, but it does need to be more than a personal catharsis and big-picture advice such as, "Loving unconditionally is the secret." Certainly, Cefalu is sincere, and he, like many, has had more than his share of struggles. Ultimately, though, arranging this handful of monologues into a single piece, as director Lori Tubert has done, makes for a patchwork quilt of a show, in which a couple of swatches just don't mesh: There's a porn bit that's seat-squirmingly awkward, and a Facebook rant that begins with the Jerry Seinfeld-patented "What's the deal with Facebook?" One key is to carve personal reflections into a work that will have resonance beyond closest friends and family, and that's a missing key in Cefalu's project. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 9. (866) 811-4111.
GO STEPPING ON A FEW TOES What makes one person's story compelling and another's banal? Maybe it's what people call soul. In her involving one-woman show, writer/performer Jasmynne Shaye describes growing up as the emotionally and sexually abused child of a single mother, and of her struggle to vanquish the demons bred of a lonely and loveless childhood. Like so many young Americans, Shaye, from first grade through her early teens, shared a decrepit housing-project apartment with her embittered mom and young sister, and her mom's various boyfriends. When life at home became unbearable, she was packed off to live with her dad, an icy, tightfisted man who turned his daughter into a housebound Cinderella. As often with solo shows, Shaye portrays multiple characters; some depictions are crystal clear, others less so. Her narrative -- rippling with accusatory recollections -- is directed, in part toward her invisible mother, in part out to the audience. Fortunately, juxtaposed with the painful memories are a few happier interludes brought on mostly by her dancing, in which she excelled. Ultimately what snares our interest is not the novelty of her story -- sadly all too common -- but the expressive, intrepid way in which she tells it. Under Jaimyon Parker's direction, some scene shifts in this bare-bones production are awkward, slowed by Shaye's frequent costume changes. Although these transitions need to be finessed, this is one case in which budget limitations and technical shortcomings are eclipsed by the performer's compelling voice. (Deborah Klugman). Bill Becker's NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Oct. 3. 323-839-0023.
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; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. 323-839-0023.
TITUS ANDRONICUS Zombie Joe's Underground and STS Productions transform Shakespeare's tragedy into a zombie tale. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Oct. 16. (818) 202-4120.
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.
THE WIZARD OF OZ Presented by June Chandler's Fairy Tale Theatre. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat., Sept. 25; Sat..; thru Nov. 13. (626) 256-3809.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
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. (Paul Birchall). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 397-3244.
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 Oct. 3. (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.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 477-2055.
BEEHIVE 1960s girl-group musical, courtesy Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 2. (310) 937-6607.BREAK THE WHIP
A tale of Virginia's Jamestown Colony, written and directed by Tim Robbins. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; Sat., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (310) 838-4264. See Theater feature
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. 24. (310) 394-9779.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE Shirley Jackson's horror story, adapted by F. Andrew Leslie. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Oct. 10. (310) 454-1970.
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; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Sept. 26. (310) 364-0535.NEW REVIEW GO PARADISE PARK
A profoundly despondent fellow (Kenneth Rudnicki) wanders into an amusement park for distraction from his agony. Inside, he slips into a fantasia of scenes - including his own romance with a young woman (Reha Zemani) from the Midwest, igniting a bundle of neuroses that keeps them estranged; a ventriloquist/philosopher (Ann Stocking) and his bifurcated dummy (David E. Frank); a tourist couple (Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance) at the end of the tether that's barely holding their marriage together; their irate young daughter (KC Wright) who yearns, in vain, for an effete Cuban (Tim Orona); a psychotic pizza-delivery boy (Jeff Atik); a wandering violinist (Lena Kouyoumdjian); a circus clown (Troy Dunn) and, in a directorial flourish, a guy in a chicken costume. Charles Mee's comedy is like a sonnet with a couple of repeated motifs: distraction, love and the general feeling of being cast adrift in cultural waters that are partly enchanting, partly evaporating, and partly polluted by the refuse of our ancestors, of our families, of our determination to follow impulses we barely comprehend, and to wind up unutterably lost. He's one of this company's favorite scribes, and mine, for the way in which, with the literary touch of a feather, he conjures primal truths of what keeps us at odds with ourselves and with eachother, keeps us yearning for the unattainable. And though there's obviously psychology at work, the driving energy of the language and of the drama are subconscious, cultural and historical currents. Production designer Charles Duncombe anchors his platform set with a wading pool stage center, in which sits an alligator, and he decorates it above with strings of festival lights on a string. Josephine Poinsot's costumes are thoroughly whimsical with primary colors and a feel for an America of the late 1950s - with the possible of exception of the married couple's matching shorts and T-shirts that read, "Kiss my ass, I'm on vacation." Director Frederique Michel stages the poetical riffs of text in her typically arch style, and it serves the play almost perfectly, except for the pizza delivery scene, where the choreography distracts from the psychosis that lies at the core. Even so, I found the evening to be indescribably affecting, tapping emotions that lurk beneath the machinery of reason. This is the last production to be staged at this back-alley venue in Santa Monica, where the company has been putting on plays for 15 years. The ventriloquist's lines couldn't have been more ironic and true: "Then, because the theatre is the art form that deals above all others in human relationships, then theatre is the art, par excellence, in which we discover what it is to be human and what is possible for humans to be . . . that theatre, properly conceived, is not an escape either but a flight to reality, a rehearsal for life itself, a rehearsal of these human relationships of which the most essential, the relationship that defines most vividly who we are and that makes our lives possible, is love." City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 7. (310) 319-9939. (Steven Leigh Morris)
THE SHADOW BOX Michael Cristofer's tales of the terminally ill and their families. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Through Sept. 25, 8 p.m.. (310) 399-3666.
A SOLDIER'S PLAY Military story by Charles Fuller. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru Oct. 17. (310) 589-1998.