Stage Raw: somatic SENSOR
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS
ICT's DESAI STEPS ASIDE, TO BE REPLACED BY . . . desai
The font may be lower-cased, but not the leadership: International City Theatre's founding artistic director Shashin Desai has announced to the company's board of directors that he will step aside as of March 15. ICT general manager caryn desai (who spells her name with no capital letters), who is also Desai's wife, has been unanimously approved by the board to take the reins of the 25-year old organization. The company took over the swanky Taper-like digs next to the Long Beach Aquarium in 2000, after establishing a strong reputation as a 99-seat theater on the Long Beach City College campus.
CHECK BACK LATE MONDAY/EARLY TUESDAY for NEW THEATER REVIEWS of AMY AND ELLIOTT, Ryan Eggold's take on Gen-X love at Hollywood's Stella Adler Theatre; CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION, Annie Baker's comedy about five aspiring actors in a Vermont community center's drama class, at South Coast Repertory; CIRCUS INCOGNITUS Jamie Adkins' one-man circus comedy for kids of all ages. Kirk Douglas Theatre; GROUP: A MUSICAL, Adam Emperor Southard's story of musical group therapy, developed by the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica; MACHO LIKE ME, Helie Lee's true story of her gender role-playing experiment: living six months as a man. Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood; ME, AS A PENGUIN, American premiere of British playwright Tom Wells's comedy about a small-town boy's bizarre adventures in the big city, at the Lost Studio; 99 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, Chelsea Sutton's comedy-drama set in a coffee house populated by dreamers, at Valley Village's Eclectic Company Theatre; SMUDGE, Rachel Axler's black comedy about parenthood at GTC Burbank; TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the Harper Lee classic, adapted by Christopher Sergel at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood; and TWELFTH NIGHT at the Knightsbridge Theater in Silver Lake
For COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below.
Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Amy Lyons, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, 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
BETONTANC AND UMKA.LV; SHOW YOUR FACE! "Virtuosic puppetry, physical theater, dance, and music combine to tell the tale of a modern-day Everyman.". REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Jan. 19-22, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 23, 7 p.m.. (213) 237-2800.
CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION Annie Baker's comedy about five aspiring actors in a Vermont community center's drama class. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Jan. 14; Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (714) 708-5555.
CIRCUS INCOGNITUS Jamie Adkins' one-man circus comedy for kids of all ages. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; opens Jan. 15; Sat., 11 a.m. & 3 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (213) 628-2772.
THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS Stage adaptation of the C.S. Lewis novel, wherein an apprentice demon trains in the art of seducing humans to the dark side. Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Sat., Jan. 15, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 16, 3 p.m., screwtapeonstage.com. (818) 243-2539.
SECOND ANNUAL NEW YEAR-NEW WORKS FESTIVAL Free readings of new plays developed in Theatre West's Writers Workshop. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Tues., Jan. 18, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Jan. 20, 8 p.m.; Fri., Jan. 21, 5 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 22, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 23, 3 & 7 p.m.. (323) 851-7977.
BIOGRAPHIES IN A BAG Lynn Ferguson performs Arthur Schopenhauer, Rachel Ogilvy performs Doris Day. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Jan. 17-19, 8 p.m., onehourtheater.com. (323) 465-4446.
BROTHERS GRIMM SHUDDER Zombie Joe's Underground's adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.". ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 14; Fri., 11 p.m.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 25. (818) 202-4120.
CAVALIA Under the Big Top/Downtown Burbank, 777 N. Front St., Burbank; opens Jan. 19; Wed.-Sun..; thru Feb. 6. 866-999-8111.
COLOGNE, OR THE WAY EVIL ENTERS THE WORLD Tony Abetemarco's solo show about sexual identity. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 15; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 19, katselastheatre.com. (702) 582-8587.
THE FARNDALE AVENUE HOUSING ESTATE TOWNSWOMEN'S GUILD DRAMATIC SOCIETY MURDER MYSTERY Kentwood Players present by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr.'s detective-thriller spoof. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 645-5156.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO FORECLOSURE It's Melissa Vardey versus the bank in her "underwater" musical-comedy. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Sun., Jan. 16, 4 p.m.. (323) 962-1632.
MACHO LIKE ME Helie Lee's true story of her gender role-playing experiment: living six months as a man. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; opens Jan. 15; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, macholikeme.com. (800) 595-4849.
ME, AS A PENGUIN American premiere of British playwright Tom Wells's comedy about a small-town boy's bizarre adventures in the big city. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 6, plays411.com/me. (323) 960-7721.
NORTH COAST REP Semi-autobiographical musical journey from Bach to Billy Joel by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, performed by Mark Anders and Carl Danielsen. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach; opens Jan. 15; Sat., Jan. 15, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 6. (858) 481-2155.
PICK OF THE VINE Nine plays, selected from more than 450 submissions from around the world, including Scripted by Mark Harvey Levine and Trace Evidence by Jeff Stewart. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 6, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 512-6030.
16TH ANNUAL HOLLYWOOD PERFORMANCE MARATHON More than 50 performers, including comedy, pancake juggling, poetry, chin puppets, fire-eating, hula dancing, music, magic, monologues and more, all night until dawn. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 15, 3 p.m.. (323) 856-8611.
SMUDGE Rachel Axler's black comedy about parenthood. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (800) 838-3006.
SYLVIA A.R. Gurney's empty-nester comedy. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (626) 256-3809.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD The Harper Lee classic, adapted by Christopher Sergel. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 20. (800) 838-3006.
TWELFTH NIGHT Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens Jan. 14; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 667-0955.
VICKI NIGHT: SONG FROM THE HEART With Joel Baker on piano. Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center Theater, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert; Sun., Jan. 16, 2 p.m....
WORDTHEATRE LIT BY LUL: FATHERS & SONS Ian Hart performs "Distant Ships" by Simon Van Booy; Samantha Mathis performs "Between Here and Here" by Amy Bloom; Bruce Vilanch performs "Ladybirds for Lunch" by Hanif Kureishi. M Bar, 1253 Vine St., L.A.; Fri., Jan. 14, 7:30 p.m.. (323) 856-0036.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
GO THE FIRST JO-EL The Troubadour Theater Company, led by writer-director-star Matt Walker, is back at the Falcon Theatre for its annual Christmas show. This time, it's the nativity story set to 18 of Billy Joel's songs. The concocted yet sophisticated story permits them to break into song whenever possible, replacing Joel's original lyrics with their own twisted ones. Hence lyrics such as "We're having a child/But she's always a virgin to me." Bethlehem innkeepers Nicholas and Greta (Jack McGee and Lisa Valenzuela) have a daughter, Letty (Katie Nunez), who's pregnant and still undecided on marriage to gormless Manolo (Matt Morgan). Enter the three wise men, who've become two hard-boiled wise guys, Gold (Matt Walker) and Myr (Brandon Breault), plus Frankenstein (Morgan Rusler, who also doubles as Herod), incorporating a bit of Three Stooges-style slapstick into their appearance. But when another pregnant couple from out of town shows up, it turns out there's no room at the inn for Mary and Joseph (Katherine Malack and Matt Walker). Everyone is in good voice, especially Nunez and Valenzuela. The live five-piece band keeps the hit tunes pumping out under the musical direction of drummer Eric Heinly. Especially noteworthy are Hayan Charlston's sizzling sax and clarinet performances. (Pauline Adamek). Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 16. (818) 955-8101.
NEW REVIEW GO HAIR The touring Broadway revival of Hair (remember when they used to keep the exclamation mark out of the titles of musicals?) conjures an era, of what it was like for Americans to face mandatory service in a military campaign that became wildly unpopular for any number of reasons. In those days, the bloodshed and homecoming coffins appeared nightly on network news. Those are the marks of an open society. Diane Paulus stages this powerful, pulsing revival, now at the Pantages. Gerome Ragni and James Rado's book and lyrics are both trivial and affecting -- concentrating on the domestic travails of a hippie tribe on the Lower East Side. The men are being sent draft cards and Claude (Paris Remillard) can't muster the strength to burn his. It's a bit like Jonathan Larson's Rent, but with the Vietnam War standing in for AIDS. This production is about the pulse, the atmosphere, the cavorting, Karole Armitage's leaping choreography, the breaking hearts, Michael MacDonald's era-grabbing costumes, the 'tude, David Truskinoff's terrific onstage band and, of course, the hair. The tribe cavorts up the aisles, involving the audience. In 1967, the fourth wall in the theater was one in a stream of walls that came tumbling down, and Paulus drives home that point. A fellow critic said it made him nostalgic for an era he never lived through. Not sure I'd go that far, but the production is unarguably seductive. (Steven Leigh Morris) Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (213) 365-3500.
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Interactive kids' musical, book and lyrics by Lloyd J. Schwartz, music by Ben Lanzarone. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 851-7977.
NEW REVIEW GO JOHN LITHGOW: STORIES BY HEART John Lithgow clutches a book of stories, just about the only prop he uses. It's a musty, thick old book that, if we're to believe him, has been in his family for generations. It's the book, he says, that his parents read from in order to entertain him and his three siblings. He recalls the family favorite -- the "funny one" -- P.G. Wodehouse's story "Uncle Fred Flits By." Years later, when his father, Arthur Lithgow, was in his 80s, he had to endure abdominal surgery that broke the spirit of this very spirited man. John was the only actor among his siblings, and therefore the only child who was unemployed and "available" to care for his aging parents -- a task that sent him nightly into paroxysms of sobbing, he says. Until he discovered on the shelf of their home a musty old book of stories containing "Uncle Fred Flits By." The snorts of laughter from his dad, and his subsequent rehabilitation, is the best retort to the fatigued argument that the arts are an indulgence. The arts have, in their way, parallel capacities to an emergency ward in a hospital. And that's one answer to the questions Lithgow posits at the start of his show: Why do people tell stories? And why do people listen to them? As a persona, Lithgow is beyond amiable. He has a physical dexterity and a far-flung vocal range that can impersonate anything from the piping of Englishwomen to a Midwestern barber's gravelly drawl. Curiously, Lithgow's Act 2, a recitation of Ring Lardner's "The Haircut," translates to the stage with more of a thud, perhaps because the vehicle -- the monologue of a deranged barber in a deranged Midwestern town -- doesn't allow the actor the opportunity to vault from one character to the next. Here, Lithgow aims to home in on a gossipy barber's explanation for the death of his friend. Onstage, the point of lightness and depravity coexisting gets made in full within 15 minutes, yet the story lasts far longer. (Steven Leigh Morris) 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 Feb. 13. (213) 628-2772.NEW REVIEW THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE
Photo courtesy of Long Beach Playhouse
For some, a computer is a word-processing machine and a gateway to the Internet. As long as they are able to type documents, send e-mails and surf the Web, they feel they're making full use of this machine. Others, however, use the very same machine to its full technological capacity: making complex calculations, designing eye-catching graphics or composing the next great symphony. In interpreting the work of an accomplished playwright like Martin McDonagh, directors and actors have the same options: Tell the story straightforwardly and competently, or delve deeply into the words and the spaces between them to bring out the richness of their meaning. Like the vast majority of us, director Patrick Williams chooses the former option in staging McDonagh's satire on Irish terrorism. In it, a cat belonging to Padraic (Patrick Rieger), a soldier in the Irish National Liberation Army, is found dead by Davey (Devon Armstrong) and brought to Padraic's father, Donny (John Gilbert), who's supposed to be taking care of it. When Padraic hears that his favorite feline isn't fit, he returns to Inishmore and runs into not only Mairead (Jannese Davidson), Davey's gun-toting sister who's keen to join both Padraic and the cause, but also a crew of INLA members angling to take over his turf. Violence and mayhem ensue, and liters of blood are shed, all of which is a lot funnier than you'd expect. Unfortunately, neither the acting nor directing brings the laughter to full throat. The characters are played too earnestly instead of hyperbolically, a move that injects subtlety into a piece that revels in extremes and caricature. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Feb. 12. (562) 494-1014, lbplayhouse.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)MAESTRO: THE ART OF LEONARD BERSTEIN Hershey Felder re-creates the legendary composer. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., 2 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 16, 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 6. (949) 497-2787.
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 18th-century comedy of manners, recorded to air on L.A. Theatre Works' syndicated radio series. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Brentwood; Fri., Jan. 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 15, 2:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 16, 4 p.m., latw.org. (310) 827-0889.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUTATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD, AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
AFTER SCHOOL GROUNDLING All-new sketch and improv, directed by Heather Morgan. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.
AMY AND ELLIOTT Ryan Eggold's take on Gen-X love. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 465-4446.
ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. 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 BLINK & YOU MIGHT MISS ME
Writer-performer Larry Blum has had a curious career, ranging from production assistant to actor; dancer on Broadway, film and television; stand-in; and on-camera escort leading glamorous female stars (Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Susan Lucci) to the stage to accept their awards. He adores stars and drops their names without restraint in this amiably bitchy compendium of celebrity dish. He tells us what it was like to be groped by Van Johnson (during a stock production of How to Succeed in Business ...), to lift Roseanne in a dance number and to stand in for Simon Cowell on Dancing With the Stars. He recounts a bizarre encounter with Ronald Reagan, who mistook him for a Gulf War hero, and tells us he somehow filched Lucille Ball's driver's license. He's clearly not fond of Raquel Welch or Roseanne, but he adores Lily Tomlin. His stories tend to serve up the rich and famous warts and all, and he often prefers the warts. He's a clever, funny, accomplished raconteur who filters his stories through a flamboyantly gay sensibility. Director Stan Zimmerman keeps things brisk and stylish. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 6. (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/blink. (Neal Weaver)
GO BOB BAKER'S NUTCRACKER Need a novel gift idea that'll be met with more gratitude than yet another candle or cashmere scarf? Borrow someone's children for the morning and take them to Jerry Griswold's marionette version of Tchaikovsky's ballet. Not only is the traditional staging a little tired -- interpretations such as The Nutcracker Swings and Mixed Nutz prove that -- but it's also a little long for wriggly kids hopped up on holiday goodies. A swift hourlong pop-up storybook of a show that lets the puppets do the dancing, this production ranks second on a kid's wish list behind only the Candy Land board game being real. Tailored to short attention spans, each song brings a new trick. Sitting around the "stage," which is just the blue portion of the room's carpet, kids' eyes grew wide as a parade of characters trotted by, or a shadow orchestra attacked the overture, or Slinky-like flutes formed words and pictures. No matter how you feel about children, very little compares to their brand of anticipatory excitement. Near the grand finale, a disco ball throws its confetti on the floor. As "oohs" and "aahs" chimed, little hands lurched out in an effort to grab the furiously flitting lights. Sure, it's a show for them, but to this adult, the holidays seemed more magical in that hour than they had in years. Puppeteers rotate, but the cast at the performance reviewed was focused and strong. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.; thru Jan. 16. (213) 250-9995.
GOCAUGHT In the aftermath of Proposition 8 passing in November 2008, one of the regrets of those who fought valiantly for gay marriage and against the proposition was that enough wasn't done to "normalize" gay couples. And while the events in David L. Ray's world-premiere play take place in July 2008, Caught furthers the cause by dramatizing one of those healthy relationships. In it, Angelenos Kenneth (Corey Brill) and Troy (Will Beinbrink) are on the eve of their nuptials, a ceremony that will be officiated by their friend Splenda (Micah McCain), who is ordained via the Internet. This blissful scene is interrupted by a visit from Kenneth's estranged sister, Darlene (Deborah Puette), who is very Southern and very Christian, as well as her daughter, Krystal (Amanda Kaschak). In the interludes between scenes, we also see Darlene's husband, T.J. (Richard Jenik), preaching to his conservative congregation in Georgia. Secrets, lies and surprising revelations fuel the drama. Director Nick DeGruccio deftly takes Ray's strong and likable characters from page to stage, sparingly playing up stereotypes for comedy without ever reducing the characters to them. Adding to the authenticity are Adam Flemming's delightfully detailed set and Katherine Hampton Noland's colorful couture. Adding to the emotional investment in the story is a talented cast; standouts include Puette, for her rich and intense portrayal of Darlene; McCain, for balancing divalike comedy with deep sincerity; and Kaschak, for combining fresh-faced innocence and a willfulness to create a very believable teenager. (Mayank Keshaviah). Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, (No perfs Dec. 24-25 & 31.) CaughtThePlay.com. (800) 595-4849.NEW REVIEW GO CHINESE COFFEE
Photo by Ed Krieger
Playwright Ira Lewis' 1992 drama, making its West Coast debut, hails from an era of manly Manhattan-centric plays in which a pair of gentlemen brawl like scalded cats over matters of honor and art. As a work of theater, the play's talkiness, which borders on self-indulgence, clearly indicates why the piece is rarely performed. However, as a tour de force for the two actors, it compellingly showcases a wide range of emotions. One icy night, scruffy, starving New York writer Harry (Guy Camilleri) barges into the tiny Greenwich Village apartment belonging to his old pal Jake (Matt Chait). Jake supposedly has been reading Harry's manuscript, but has been curiously quiet about what he thinks. When Harry forces his pal to declare his true feelings about the novel, the unexpected reaction tests the pair's relationship. Lewis' drama is a philosophical debate -- the conflict between a true artist, who might well wind up penniless, and the artistic wannabe who lacks talent and drive. But it's also about the peculiarly fragile nature of friendship, particularly the tepidly lukewarm bond between friends who share adversity and little else. Director Jack Heller's staging crackles with ferocious energy, elevating the potentially clunky dialogue, but the slight plot does not effectively justify why the pair agree to continue talking and remain in the same room after it's clear they hate each other. Still, the acting is robust and movingly organic. Chait's turn as the embittered, ironic artistic failure is compelling: Is he sad or angry that his friend has created a work of art when he himself cannot? Camilleri portrays his rumpled oaf of a starving writer with a neurotic mildness that at first suggests shyness; as the play's events unfold, however, it's clear his anxiousness belies an artistic confidence and iron will that his friend can't possibly ever reach. Flight Theatre at the Complex, 6472 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Feb. 13. (323) 960-7792. (Paul Birchall)
GO CYRANO DE BERGERAC Director Rae Allen revels in the equal measure of might assigned to pen and sword in Edmond Rostand's word-centric, swashbuckling classic. Allen's sure hand in guiding the text along a well-paced tragicomic trajectory begins with her decision to slash the first scene significantly, depositing the legendary lead character and his protruding nose onstage within a few minutes of the outset. John Colella tackles the titular role with an overabundance of seething anger and outward frustration at Cyrano's self-described ugliness, neglecting at times the character's inherent charm, a crucial hinge upon which the play's front door hangs: We have to fall in love with Cyrano if we are to feel the requisite frustration over Roxanne's (an arresting Olivia D'Abo) ill-informed choice of the doltish but adorable Christian (a sufficiently hapless Toby Moore) rather than her eloquent, adoring cousin. Romantic flatness aside, Colella successfully thrusts home poetic parlance, bringing an effortlessness of speech to the verbose role. Jonathan Redding does smarmy to perfection as the pining Comte De Guiche, and Mark Rimer bumbles beautifully as Raggeneau. Swordplay and balcony climbing are skillfully staged in the small space. (Amy Lyons). Ruskin Group Theater, 3000 Airport Dr., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (310) 397-3244.
Photo by Ed Krieger
Dan Via's Off-Broadway hit, receiving its L.A. premiere, is set in the context of the impassioned debate over gay marriage. Handsome gay newspaper columnist Colin (Gerald McCullouch) and buttoned-down lawyer Stewart (playwright Via) have been best friends for 20 years. Despite a bit of hanky-panky in their college days, their friendship has never become a love affair, though they're closer in many respects than some lovers. When Colin begins an affair with Tee (Ian Verdun), an eager young man half his age, it's a seismic shock to the long-standing relationship. Stewart is resentful of the boy's incursion in their lives, and suspects there's more to Tee than meets the eye. But when he tries to tell Colin about his doubts and suspicions, Colin dismisses them as mere jealousy. Though Via's play gets off to a slow start, things that initially seem cryptic or merely casual prove to be of crucial importance as it progresses, and the piece builds to a startling finale. Director Rick Sparks elicits finely nuanced performances from his three principals, and Adam Flemming provides the handsome and flexible unit set. Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Feb. 13. (323) 960-7738, plays411.com/daddy. (Neal Weaver)DOUG LOVES MOVIES Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Tues., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
FACEBOOK The weekly show formerly known as MySpace., $5. Upright Citizens
Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A.; Wed., 9:30 p.m.. (323) 908-8702.
NEW REVIEW FATIGUED
Photo by Danny Munoz
How does a playwright honor the personal sacrifices of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans without seeming to endorse the corrupted policies that sent them into battle? Although it is not the explicit subject of this pair of original one-acts, this dramatic conundrum hovers over the Company of Angels' uncertain attempt to tabulate the psychic costs paid by warriors and their families. In Jerome A. Parker's melodramatic "Ballad of Sad Young Men" (directed by Kila Kitu), Joe (a terrific Joshua R. Lamont) and Greg (Charles Maceo) spend a brief stateside break between combat tours trying to anesthetize their emotional war wounds by swilling rum in their old neighborhood haunts. While the apparently stable Greg conceals a diabolical outlet for his unresolved rage, the openly brittle Joe manages to find the hope of redemption in the nurturing arms of a former one-night stand (Juanita Chase). Gabriel Rivas Gomez's "Scar Tissue" adopts a more nuanced literary tack in its story of an emotionally remote cardiac surgeon (the fine Monica Sanchez) who is forced to finally deal with the loss of her army-medic daughter (Carolyn Zeller) by the death of an invalid soldier (Chris Hampton) ironically impatient to have his own heart defect repaired so he can be returned to action. Director Nathan Singh's smart staging receives able support in Ivan Noel Acosta's nicely expressive set and lights. But the evening's otherwise worthy intentions are fatally undermined by the plays' nagging reluctance to directly take a point of view on the war itself -- a flaw that ultimately implicates the production in the cause of its characters' tragedies. Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through Jan. 23. (866) 811-4111, companyofangels.com. (Bill Raden)
NEW REVIEW GREEDY
Photo by Kurt Boetcher
The opening tableau of Karl Gajdusek's comedy gives the impression that an engaging evening of theater will follow. While motoring along on a rainy night, Paul (Kurt Fuller) receives a call on his cell phone from a distraught woman who promises him a startling amount of money in exchange for his help. After this tantalizing, cryptic exchange, however, the script turns both puzzling and effete. The origin of the call is a pair of sibling scammers who are out for a good score. Louis (Brad Raider) is a luftmensch and inventor of sorts who hopes that a grotesque contraption he calls a "Kofi" machine will make him rich; sister Keira (Maggie Lawson) is a gritty ex-druggie with a ton of emotional issues. They share their trashy digs with Louis' lady Janet (a fine Amanda Detmer). Their mark, Paul, is a doctor with some pocketbook problems, a Russian wife who wants a baby and an outsized dream of life unfettered. The bulk of the play shifts between the two homes (designer Kurt Boetcher's dual-view mock-up is well done) with much time and dialogue spent on what is negligible, instead of the ugly fraud that lies at the heart of the play or the psychological portraits of those involved, neither of which are artfully or convincingly constructed. The only surprise comes at the end, but it doesn't redeem the sputtering path toward it. That's not to fault the actors, who perform well under James Roday's direction. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m., through Jan. 29. reddogsquadron.com. (Lovell Estell III)
GO HEAD: THE MUSICAL Composer-lyricist Kevin Fry's delightfully campy horror musical, based on Roger Corman's 1962 gore-fest The Brain That Wouldn't Die, is not only enjoyable on the level of Midnight Theater excess, it's a quick-witted show by any standard. Its catchy score and clever, bloodthirsty lyrics are in the style of Little Shop of Horrors. And how can you not love a musical that features a severed head warbling songs of love and hatred? Beautiful, virginal Jan (Stephanie Ann Saunders) is administering fellatio to her boyfriend, Bill (Charles St. Michael), in the front seat of their car as they speed through the woods -- an ill-advised, foolhardy act they soon have reason to regret as, in the ensuing car crash, Jan's head is chopped off. Not to worry, though: Bill, it turns out, is a mad scientist and has invented a formula that will keep Jan's head alive until he can find a new body onto which to transplant it. While Bill runs off to scour the strip clubs for a suitable albeit unwilling donor, Jan is left hooked up to a table, singing the blues. If the sight of a severed head dangling by its jaws from a man's manhood isn't enough to make you howl, then the image of Saunders' strangely seductive Jan, her head on a table, singing a love song to the hideous Franken-monster (Chance Havens) Bill keeps locked in the closet, will do the trick. In director L. Flint Esquerra's taut production, the ensemble assay their silly characters with glee and conviction. Fry's musical style strives for '50s doo-wop, but his comic instincts are comparatively timeless, evident in lyrics such as, "He will find you a new hottie/Chop off her head and give you her body!" Under music director Robert Shaw's helm, the ensemble's vocal work is top-notch, with droll performances that are equal parts operatic and cheesy. In addition to Saunders' perky yet monstrous Jan, particularly sprightly turns are offered by St. Michael's spooky, intense mad scientist and by Becca Battoe and Fiona Bates, playing ill-fated women of ill repute, one of whom comes to grief at Bill's hands. St. Michael, in particular, has a memorably evocative falsetto: perfectly in tune, but edged with a fierce madness that puts one in mind of Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (Paul Birchall). MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri., 9 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (323) 960-5770.
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.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 655-7679.
KEEP IT CLEAN COMEDY Hosted by JC Coccoli., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; Mon., 10:30 p.m.. (323) 663-1739.NEW REVIEW LOVE, SEX AND THE IRS The IRS thinks Jon and Leslie are married. Problem is, Jon (Nathanial Dobies) has lied on his returns and his male roommate, a ticked-off Leslie (Bret Colombo), must wear a dress and wig to fool the tax man (George Cummings) who wants to meet the "missus." Furthermore, the emergency drag wardrobe comes from Jon's fiancée, Kate (Tamara Lynn Davis), who's already been sneaking Leslie into her panties. Gay marriage is so foreign to William Van Zandt and Jane Millmore's 1979 sex farce that when Jon's estranged mom (Sally Richter) barges into the charade, she weeps that Jon and Leslie have inspired God to destroy Manhattan -- for being a straight couple living in sin. (The one woman who realizes there's a man under those tights, the very funny Carole Catanzaro as Leslie's girlfriend, thinks being gay is cause to be committed to a mental hospital.) Director Christopher Chase tries to place us squarely in the '70s, littering the set with fondue pots, cans of Tab and posters of Farrah Fawcett. Even so, the comedy's last source of tension, a landlord (Barry Agin) snooping for co-ed cohabitation, feels like a confounding homage to Three's Company. At least taxes are more certain than social mores. But before bringing life to the near alien past, Chase's priority is to macho-up Dobies and Colombo, both too fluttery to play a violent schemer and a ladies' man thrust into playing the oddest of odd couples. Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m., through Jan. 30. (661) 547-1173. (Amy Nicholson)
NEVERMORE World premiere of Matt Ritchey's thriller about a young Edgar Allan Poe. (On the Chaplin Stage.). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 5, plays411.com/nevermore. (323) 960-1055.
THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN Victoria Romanova's "psychedelic theater/dance rock 'n' roll show.". Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Sat., 9:30 p.m.; thru Jan. 29. (323) 850-7827.
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.
STANDING ON CEREMONY THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS Written by Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Moises Kaufman, Neil Labute, Wendy Mcleod, Kathy Najimy, Jose Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright, conceived and directed by Brian Shnipper., $25. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 7, StandingOnCeremony.net, Tix.com. (800) 595-4849.
GO THE TRAIN DRIVER South African playwright Athol Fugard's plays have dealt with the havoc wrought in his country by Apartheid, but his more recent works also often possess the feel of a ghost story, as they grow to encompass the guilt and grief which were the legacy of his homeland's decades of racial inequity. This is particularly true in his powerful new play, in which the spirits of the forgotten dead are all around us, unseen. As he drives his locomotive through the black shantytown area of the city, train driver Roelf (Morlan Higgins) accidentally runs over a mother and infant, after the mother commits suicide by stepping onto the tracks before Roelf can stop. There's nothing Roelf could have done to save them, but he nevertheless is consumed with guilt over his role in the death. At the graveyard where indigent, unidentified bodies are buried, Roelf searches for the dead mother's grave so he can expiate his guilt. Elderly, impoverished gravedigger Simon (Adolphus Ward) is sympathetic, but is also desperate to send Roelf home, before the white driver's presence in the black region of the country causes disaster. Although Fugard's plot is narratively smaller than what is found in many of his other plays, the overall mood of sorrow and resigned, barely controlled rage at how the universe is arranged is powerfully palpable. A deep-seated, thought-provoking pessimism about men's nature is constantly evident. Director Stephen Sachs' character-driven production is stunning, from the dusty squalor of Jeff McLaughlin's desolate, gravel-covered shanty set, to the dense, evocative acting work. Higgins' mingled rage and sorrow -- anger over being forced to kill someone he didn't know, along with his grief over the pair's death - is powerful, but it's Ward's slightly ironic, underplayed turn as the gravedigger that captures attention every moment he's on stage. Fugard has written that the play is a metaphor for the moral blindness of an overclass that has ignored the plight of the hopeless -- but the play cunningly concludes with a tragic coda that suggests, to the underclass, even white guilt is a luxury that harms more than it heals. (Paul Birchall). Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (323) 663-1525.
VARLA JEAN MERMAN: THE LOOSE CHANTEUSE "The Ambien sounds" of Jeffery Roberson's drag alter ego, written by Roberson and Jacques Lamarre., brownpapertickets.com. Cavern Club Theater, 1920 Hyperion Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 9 p.m.; thru Jan. 15, brownpapertickets.com. (323) 969-2530.
THE ZOMBIE HOLIDAY SPECIAL This irreverent departure from the customary Yuletide fare has some gleaming moments of comedy, but not enough to leave a lasting impression. It's formatted as a Christmas TV special hosted by a family whose members consist of the living and the undead. Mom and Dad (Patrick Bristow and Peggy Etra) have that squeaky-clean '50 sitcom look, as does son Gavin (Grant Baciocco), daughter Merry (Vanessa Whitney) and lovable ol' Grandma (Alison Mork). There's even a token Jew named David (Matt Vlahakis), who sports a yarmulke and prayer shawl. The comic sizzle comes from Jayne Entwistle as Holly and Chris Sheets as Grandpa; both are green-faced zombies joining the festivities postmortem. Despite director Bristow's best efforts to sustain the humor, overkill sets in and the jokes wear thin. The cast really shines during the improvisational segments. In one hilarious instance, the family puts on a display of culinary pizzazz, accompanied by a hilarious musical ditty. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 15, (No perfs De. 25 & Jan. 1.) plays411.com/zombieholiday. (323) 960-7612.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
BULLSHOT CRUMMOND AND THE INVISIBLE BRIDE OF DEATH A sense of humor can be a funny thing. In 1972, when creators Ron House and Diz White first burlesqued the patriotic, globe-hopping adventurer hero from H.C. McNeile's Bulldog Drummond pulp novels, the archetype of the stiff-upper-lip, sex-oblivious British adventurer was a cultural clich<0x00E9> overripe for satire. Monty Python's Flying Circus became a TV legend, roasting such hackneyed chestnuts. Thirty-five years, three wars and a sexual and digital revolution later, however, writer-director House's witless and laugh-challenged misfire of a "sequel" only illustrates how far the comedy gestalt has shifted. The unflappable, horse-hung Hugh Crummond (Oliver Muirhead) is back, this time newly wedded to the not-yet-bedded gal pal/sidekick Rosemary Fenton (Anastasia Roussel), when duty calls. Seems that arch villain Otto Von Bruno (Christian Rummel) has teamed with mad scientist Dr. Morton Fenwick (Rodger Bumpass) to bring down the British Empire with an army of invisible henchmen. But there's a limit to what even this otherwise fine ensemble can do with material tuned to the sensibility of a naughty British schoolboy, circa 1958. (Think Topper padded out with puerile dick jokes and overstretched double entendres.) Edwin Peraza's sound and Stephanie Schoelzel's costumes lend polish to a production that never should have left the drawing board. (Bill Raden). Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 16, bullshotisback.com. (800) 595-4849.
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.
THE KITCHEN PLAYS The Road Theatre Company presents five one-act workshops, including Phantom Tickets, Albie Selznick's one-man morality tale. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (818) 752-7568.
NEW REVIEW NEW EYES
Photo by Boris Nievsky
99 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS Chelsea Sutton's comedy-drama set in a coffee house populated by dreamers. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (818) 508-3003.
SALOME When presented with Aubrey Beardsley's Whistler-inspired illustrations for the first English edition of Salome, Oscar Wilde famously complained that Beardsley's drawings were "too Japanese" for a work the playwright considered to be Byzantine. The truth is that Wilde's lurid, lyrical homage to French symbolism is sheer Victorian camp -- a flamboyantly baroque finale to English aestheticism on the eve of its suppression by Wilde's conviction for sodomy in 1895. So it is no surprise that camp emerges as the salient keynote to director Aramazd Stepanian's wryly risible if uneven staging of a play generally considered unstageable. Its dramatic centerpiece, of course, is the biblically inspired legend of John the Baptist's beheading, which Wilde presents as the grisly denouement to a tragic chain of frustrated desire: Imprisoned holy man John -- here called Iokanaan (played by beefcake Michael Joseph) -- spurns the advances of petulant court femme fatale Salom<0x00E9> (the exotically androgynous Laura Cotenescu, also credited with the show's inventive costumes), who disdains the incestuous lust of her stepfather, Herod the Tetrarch (a hyperkinetic Kevin Vavasseur), who unwisely ignores the simmering jealousy of his vengeful queen, Herodias (the fine Jacqueline Axton). The production's prurient high point comes in Salom<0x00E9>'s storied "dance of the seven veils," performed by Cotenescu (in collaboration with co-choreographer Rico Mejia) in steamy, show-stopping, Jumbo's-worthy fashion -- which makes the scene in which Iokanaan actually loses his head seem an unnecessarily literal and oddly redundant anticlimax. (Bill Raden). Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (818) 500-7200.
NEW REVIEW THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN
Photo by Adam Neubauer
For all the talk of our sociocultural evolution, look no further than the sixth installment of the gory-glorifying serial-killer movie series Saw, or the rapt attention given to an especially gasp-inducing murder trial, as a gauge of Americans' fascination with the instinct to kill. Not just kill, either -- the stronger the scent of blood, the hungrier the public's appetite. You could finger Lizzie Borden's 1892 trial as the trigger for this obsession. Writer-director Steven Sabel's world premiere is adapted from the transcripts of the double hatchet murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, for which their daughter Lizzie was arrested and ultimately acquitted. Sabel wisely keeps the stage bare, focusing instead on recollections that twist so sharply you almost need a crib sheet to keep up. Jeremy Mascia's lead prosecutor, Hosea Knowlton, relies on overbearing theatrics as his primary cross-examination tactic, but it's in line with the typical portrayal of the courtroom in film; Annie Freeman is as wide- and wild-eyed as famous photos of the accused. The play feels lacking, but perhaps that's more a reflection of our CSI culture than of the material. Tom Newman's icy original music, particularly the hollow whispering of the children's jump-rope rhyme "Lizzie Borden took an ax," is literally hair-raising. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m., through Feb. 5. (818) 202-4120. (Rebecca Haithcoat)WEIRD ON TOP Improvisational comedy by Danielle Cintron, Tiffany Cole, Mason Hallberg, Kerr Seth Lordygan, Sarah McCann and Alex Sanborn. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs., Jan. 20, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; Tues., March 1, 8 p.m.; Thurs., April 21, 8 p.m.; Thurs., May 12, 8 p.m.; Thurs., June 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 17, 8 p.m.; Thurs., Aug. 18, 8 p.m.. (818) 508-3003.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS LOCATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GROUP: A MUSICAL Adam Emperor Southard's story of musical group therapy, developed by the Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 29, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a star identified in the program only as "The Crooner." James Thompson's authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting, a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter, numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie. Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as "That's Life," "New York, New York" and "Fly Me to the Moon," you'd swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III). Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (310) 399-3666.
ISLAND OF BRILLIANCE Emily (Ava Bogle) is a savant with an IQ of 40. (Her family is touchy about the preface "idiot.") She can recite any work from memory -- even Hamlet -- but her gift for words can only duplicate, not create, great literature. That is, until younger sister Evie (Jill Renner), a high school senior applying to Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth, starts secretly feeding Emily her own poems, deceptively simple and stirring pieces that the bedridden girl starts parroting back to the amazement and joy of her mother (Nancy Linehan Charles), a local English teacher (Bill Lithgow) and a public access reporter (Mary Jane). When one child sucks up all the oxygen in the house, how long until the other daughter suffocates? Dawn O'Leary's drama alternates between their home and awkward college admission interviews that show Evie is so cowed by her sister's needs (or really, her mother's needs for Emily) that Evie is her own worst advocate. She's honest, humble and as untrained as a puppy: In one Q&A, she cracks a joke about the drunk students on campus; in another, she assures the questioner that she won't commit suicide if she doesn't get in. The script and Wynn Marlow's direction are too on the nose to let this fascinating family dynamic stretch and settle in. Much of the ensemble members are still getting comfortable with their characters, and Renner comes off as so blinkered and cheery that Evie seems immunized against the pressures she faces. In Act 2, her manic grin gets so big that it threatens to overshadow the more subtle themes of sacrifice and loyalty, and a last-second twist bruises the play's credibility. But the bones of the story are strong, and O'Leary has an ear for a good poem and memorable line. (Amy Nicholson). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 16. (310) 822-8392.
GO JULIA Playwright Vince Melocchi's sweet, melancholy drama artfully makes the point that, of all the sorrows, nothing beats the sadness of being haunted by guilt over a long-ago romantic misdeed. Lou (Richard Fancy), a frail old man who clearly does not have too much sand left in the hourglass, shambles into a run-down Pittsburgh coffeehouse, ostensibly to witness the razing of the local department store where he worked some 50 years ago. However, his real purpose in returning to the scene is an attempted reconciliation with his long-lost sweetheart, Julia, whom he feels guilty for spurning many years ago. However, Julia (Roses Prichard), who now has Alzheimer's disease, doesn't even remember her own son, Steve (Keith Stevenson). Melocchi's writing is deceptively top-heavy with conversations that at first appear pointless but gradually coalesce to construct the psychological underpinnings of strikingly plausible blue-collar characters. In director Guillermo Cienfuegos' mostly subtle and emotionally nuanced production, the pacing could stand some amping up, but the feeling of reality encompassed by the interactions and confrontations is haunting at times. In his turn as the gruff, cranky Lou, Fancy builds on our expectation that the character is a feeble old coot, gradually shifting him into a figure whose regret and rage are all too understandable. Prichard is unusually believable as the tragically blank Julia. Dramatically vivid work also is offered by Stevenson's glum, disappointed Steve and by Haskell Vaughn Anderson III, as a family friend who remembers all the parties when they were young. (Paul Birchall). Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (310) 822-8392.