Stage Raw: The Trial of Hamlet
AMERICAN DOLLHOUSE Leah Johnston and Chris Barnett's interactive theatrical exhibit set in a life-sized dollhouse.. Gallery Godo, 6749 San Fernando Rd., Glendale; Fri., Jan. 28, 5 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 5 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 5, 8 p.m., TheAmericanDollhouse.com. (818)-641-4369.
THE BEVERLY HILLS PSYCHIATRIST U.S. premiere of Cornelius Schnauber's comedy. Presented by the Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies at USC, in co-operation with the German-American Cultural Society. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 6, plays411.com/beverlyhills. (323) 960-4418.
BLACK VERSION Improvised "black versions" of popular films suggested by the audience, performed by African-American actors. Directed by Karen Maruyama. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 31; Mon., 10 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 934-9700.
THE BREAK OF NOON Neil LaBute's profile of a modern-day prophet. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; opens Feb. 2; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 6. (310) 208-5454.
THE CAPULETS AND THE MONTEGUES Modern rhyming-verse translation of Lope de Vega's Romeo and Juliet play. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 29; Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, Andak.org. (866) 811-4111.
C'EST SI BON Drag chanteuse Arnaldo's tribute to Eartha Kitt., $10. Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center Theater, 73-750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert; Sun., Jan. 30...
A CHORUS LINE The Broadway musical about Broadway dancers, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos; Fri., Jan. 28, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 30, 2 p.m.. (562) 467-8818.
CLOSER Patrick Marber's study of "society's struggle with intimacy and personal identity.". Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 20. (323) 960-7785.
CRACK WHORE GALORE -- LIVE! Sextastic rock 'n' rolling with Danny and Abbey Galore. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 3; Thurs., Sat., 10:30 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 4, 10:30 p.m.; thru March 12, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. (323) 644-1929.
THE FOURTH ANNUAL 10-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL This year's theme: "The Black Experience: Colored, Negro, Black, African-American; a Collection of Our Stories.". Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 3; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 20. (323) 465-4446.
FULL BLOWN Andrew Ableson and Jean Spinosa's stowaway tale. Part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 30, 5 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 5 p.m.; March 9-11, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html...
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Chrysalis Stage presents Oscar Wilde's comedy of manners. Vic Lopez Auditorium, Whittier High School, 12417 E. Philadelphia St., Whittier; Fri., Jan. 28, 8 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 30, 2 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 3, 8 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 5, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 6, 2 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 11, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 13, 2 p.m.; Mon., Feb. 14, 7 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 19, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 20, 2 p.m., chrysalisstage.com. (562) 212-1991.
INKUBATOR Katselas Theatre Company's monthly performance showcase of projects in various stages of development. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 28; Last Friday of every month, 8 p.m.; Last Saturday of every month, 8 p.m.; Last Sunday of every month, 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 27. (702) KTC-TKTS.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM Shakespeare's comedy, directed by Mark Rucker. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; opens Jan. 28; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Tues.-Wed., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 20. (714) 708-5555.
MLLE. GOD God Nicholas Kazan reimagines Frank Wedekind's femme-fatale tale "Lulu.". Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 28; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 27, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. (323) 644-1929.
MR. KOLPERT Norton People presents David Gieselmann's contemporary German farce. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 1; Tues.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 9. (323) 644-4946.
PLAY DATES Sam Wolfson's offbeat love story. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Jan. 29; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 6. (323) 960-7784.
STATE OF INCARCERATION Los Angeles Poverty Department's new performance work examining the costs of incarceration in the United States. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Fri., Jan. 28, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 8:30 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 4, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 5, 8:30 p.m.. (310) 315-1459.
SWEET SOUL MUSIC American Idol's Frenchie Davis sings the songs of Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada; Sun., Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m.. (562) 944-9801.
'TIL DEATH DO US PART: LATE NITE CATECHSIM 3 Catholic nun offers lessons on marriage, by Maripat Donovan. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 29; Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 30, 2 p.m.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (818) 700-4878.
TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize winner about two African-American brothers. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; opens Jan. 29; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (866) 811-4111.
THE TRIAL OF HAMLET The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles judges the Dane prince. USC, Bovard Auditorium, 3551 Trousdale Parkway, L.A.; Mon., Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m., Shakespearecenter.org. (800) 838-3006.
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL Horton Foote's nostalgia story. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Jan. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 6. (818) 700-4878.
TUCUMCARI Riley Steiner's story of "love, choices, tough times, and Western music on Route 66.". Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills; opens Feb. 2; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (310) 364-0535.
UNSCREENED New short plays by Emily Halpern, Leslye Headland, Beth Schacter, and Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz., (310) 424-5085. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A.; opens Jan. 31; Mon., 8 p.m.; Mon., Feb. 14, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 852-9111.
WAYNE WHITE: YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO ACT ALL IMPRESSED Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 1; Tues., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (310) 855-0350.
WOMEN OF SPOON RIVER: THEIR VOICES FROM THE HILL Solo show performed by Lee Meriwether, adapted by Lee Meriwether with Jim Hesselman, based on the book Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; opens Jan. 28; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 851-7977.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
HERSHEY FELDER'S GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK Sing along with Hershey Felder to standards by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein, Sondheim, Bock and Harnick, and more. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach; Sun., Jan. 30, 7 p.m.; Mon., Jan. 31, 8 p.m.. (949) 497-2787.
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.
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)., $50-$70. 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.
THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE 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 laugher 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. (Mayank Keshaviah). Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 12. (562) 494-1014.
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.; thru Feb. 6. (949) 497-2787.
MOON OVER BUFFALO Ken Ludwig's backstage farce, set in 1953 New York. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (562) 494-1014.
NOISES OFF Michael Frayn's slapstick thespian farce. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 30. (818) 240-0910.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED 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.; thru Jan. 28. (323) 934-9700.
AMY AND ELLIOTT As sweet, slacker champion Elliot sits on his grubby couch, propping his safety-pinned Converses on the coffee table and strumming his guitar, a theme pushes through the haze of weed and inertia: Writer, director and star Ryan Eggold watched a lot of movies about the '90s. Built around Elliot and his bumbling but earnest attempts to navigate "grown-up" relationships, Eggold's play is as vague as its setting ("The City" in "The '90s"), as circular as the path Elliot makes pouring Cap'n Crunch for his visitors, and as self-absorbed as his exasperating best friend, Amy (Alexandra Breckenridge). In other words, he's constructed a close approximation of the movies, like Singles and Kicking and Screaming, that ended up romanticizing the angst and aimlessness of the existentially challenged 20-somethings dubbed Generation X. Eggold's so comfortable with the script that he glides through the show like a dancer. But too often, his puppy-dog charm turns grating when his dialogue dips from funny ("I don't wanna join Jehovah's Witness or whatever," he says through his door to a solicitor) to cutesy ("Ice cream, yeah, we all scream for it!"). Robert Baker is refreshingly solid as the lone adult in the play; and Gillian Zinser, Eggold's cast mate on TV series 90210, deserves credit for the considerable steam picked up in Act 2. (Rebecca Haithcoat). 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-FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.. (323) 934-9700.
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. (Neal Weaver). Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 6, plays411.com/blink...
CABARET IDOL, SEASON 2 James Mooney's weekly vocal competition, with winners voted on by the audience. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 24. (323) 466-9917.
GO CAUGHT 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. (800) 595-4849.
Diaries of a K-Town Dive Susan Park's one-woman show set in a hole-in-the-wall bar in L.A.'s Koreatown. Elephant Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs., 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 5, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 10, plays411.com/ktowndive. (323) 960-4410.
DIRT Rogue Machine Theater & Firefly: Theater & Films present the L.A. premiere of Bruce Gooch's story of father versus son. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sun., 3 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, roguemachinetheatre.com. (323) 960-5563.
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.
THE FARNDALE AVENUE HOUSING ESTATE TOWNSWOMEN'S GUILD DRAMATIC GAYS R US Erin Foley and her funny pals, gay and otherwise., $14. THE IMPROV, 8162 Melrose Ave., L.A.; First Thursday of every month, 8 p.m.. (323) 651-2583.
GREEDY 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 Janet 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 Jen Bendik'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. (Lovell Estell III). El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 29, reddogsquadron.com...
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 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.
LATC SECOND ANNUAL PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL Weekend of free play readings by established and emerging playwrights. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri., Jan. 28, 7 p.m.; Sat., Jan. 29, 12, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 30, 11 a.m., 2:30 & 6 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
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 taxman (George Cummings) who wants to meet the "missus." Furthermore, the emergency drag wardrobe comes from Jon's fiancee, 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. (Amy Nicholson). Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Jan. 30, theTRIBEproductions.org. (323) 465-0383.
GO MACHO LIKE ME In her solo performance, the very funny Helie Lee explores the issue of male privilege from a South Korean female perspective. (Though she was born in Seoul, her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was 4.) She saw firsthand how her brother was treated as a crown prince, while she and her sister were judged purely on their marital prospects -- provoking her parents' urgent concern with getting her married. She decided to live as a man for 10 weeks, to experience the strength and freedom she attributed to men. She strapped down her bosom, had her hair cut short, acquired a masculine wardrobe and set out to gain entry to all-male enclaves; the results were not what she expected. She found that men's lives were no less constricted than women's, limited by competitive machismo and the fear of being perceived as gay. The tale is both illuminating and hilarious as she gains new insights into what it's like to live as a man and as a woman. By the end of her experiment, she's delighted to return to the familiar bonds of femininity. With director Sammy Wayne, she has forged a rich, witty, seamless tale. (Neal Weaver). Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, macholikeme.com. (800) 595-4849.
MAGIC STIRNGS Bob Baker's marionette variety revue, featuring puppet horses on a merry-go-round, an opera diva on roller skates, a "Day at the Circus," and an all-American grand finale. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Tues.-Fri., 10:30 a.m.. (213) 250-9995.
GO ME, AS A PENGUIN Yorkshire playwright Tom Wells' comedy, in its U.S. premiere, is a throwback to British "Kitchen Sink" dramas of the 1950s. This one might be dubbed a "Toilet Bowl" comedy. "I think you should see this," says visiting Stitch (Brendan Hunt), peeking out from the bathroom door belonging to his his very pregnant sister, Liz ( Mina Badie). "Whatever you've done, just keep flushing," she fires back from her threadbare couch. The play unfolds from her grubby living room. With his penchant for the comfort of knitting, idiosyncratic and perhaps mentally touched Stitch is visiting his sister in Hull from even more rural Withernsea, in order to check out Hull's gay scene. The tenderness between the misfit, almost mortally lonely Stitch and his very pregnant sister has much in common with Shelagh Delaney's 1958 similarly tender play, A Taste of Honey. Themes of loyalty, love, and desperate longing - intertwined with sado-masochistic behaviors -- just keep trickling across the divide of centuries, and in much the same gritty, earthy theatrical style depicted in filthy furniture (set by John Pleshette) that represents poverty, and not just the poverty of financial resources. Pleshette directs a fine production that gets to the heart of the matter, even if some of the North Country dialects drift a wee bit southwest into, say, Alabama. Hunt serves up a dynamic performance as Stitch, laced with twitches and subtle mannerisms. Bradie's Liz has a similar richness and authenticity. James Donovan plays Liz's partner, and the father of her child, Mark, with a blend of the requisite gruffness required by a guy trying to scrape out a living in Hull, masking a soft-heartedness that would get him cast out to sea, were more people to know about it. Stitch becomes obsessed with a callow aquarium attendant named Dave, played by Johnny Giacalone with an arrogant brutishness that's a pleasingly heart-hearted antidote to the eccentric humanity that shows up in the room. In her pregnancy, Liz has become almost addicted to a popular British snack called Battenberg cake. "Ah," remarks Stitch drolly, watching her opens the wrapper and melt into paroxysms of delight at the first bite: "Sponge. Jam. Marzipan. All the major food groups." What keep audiences watching new plays may not be new forms at all, but merely the references that provide the necessary inclusion. The Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 6 (323) 960-7721. (Steven Leigh Morris). Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 6, plays411.com/me. (323) 960-7721.
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.
NEW REVIEW GO PUZZLER
Photo by C.M. Gonzalez
In writer-director Padraic Duffy's new play, Niklas Keller (Mark Bramhall) now in his 70s, sits at a desk somewhere in Germany, rifling through documents shredded by the East German secret police years ago. His pin-in-a-haystack search is for a fragment of a conversation, for a woman, his wife, for a fleeting marriage that dissolved before his eyes in a world where everybody was being watched and nothing was certain. His Quixotic search is for certainty, for an understanding of why said wife disappeared, after that conversation in which she promised somebody, some man in a trenchcoat, that she would see him later in that day. It was clandestine rendezvous in which both man and woman were each incognito (except to each other). After she met with that man, Keller never saw his wife again. Keller pieces together that conversation from shreds of tiny slips of paper found in sacks of shredded documents that the contemporary government is analyzing in order to understand the now defunct East German mentality. That conversation shows up again on film, actually a live re-enactment performed by Jessica Sherman and Jacob Sidney. Her neck is wrapped in a purple scarf, and the kind of white handbag that was de rigueur for East German spies. He's in a trenchcoat. It's all very noir. And so Duffy's romantic thriller follows a kind of Agatha Christie logic, as revealed in a smokey Fritz Lang flick where nobody is quite who they claim to be. The flashbacks provide the keenest sense of film noir that Duffy's play winks at. There's an almost choreographic panache to the swirl with which Sherman and Sidney move. Less so in the present tense, where the acting style more naturalistic than noir. The consequence is a kind of emotional investment in a sentimental love story, pinched at times by the sly visual jokes on a film style that Duffy clearly adores. His affection for the form, and for its characters, is so much more satisfying than a parody. (Steven Leigh Morris) Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 281-8337.
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.
SHADOW ANTHROPOLOGY: A POST-9/11 COMEDY Rick Mitchell's look at the U.S. occupation of Iraq through comedy, shadow puppetry, and song. Part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Through Jan. 28, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 13, 5 p.m.; Through Feb. 25, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html...
STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS Written by Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Moises Kaufman, Neil Labute, Wendy Mcleod, Kathy Najimy, Jos<0x00E9> 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.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD It's easy to understand why playwright Christopher Sergel's 1970 stage adaptation of Harper Lee's sentimental Southern Gothic novel was adopted for its annual pageant by Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Ala. Its depiction of a noble white patrician defending a helpless, subservient black field hand from being framed for rape by ignorant white-trash extremists is undoubtedly how the South would like to view its Jim Crow past. Why the Production Company chose Sergel's Sunday-school chestnut to inaugurate their new home at the Lex Theatre, however, remains a mystery. The chief virtue of director T.L. Kolman's by-the-book production (amid designer August Viverito's lamentably clumsy clapboard-facade set pieces) is in allowing the company's versatile stock players to strut their stuff in the play's numerous supporting roles: Ferrell Marshall as the story's wryly astute narrator, Maudie Atkinson; a nuanced Jim Hanna as Maycomb's perspicacious Sheriff Heck Tate; Inda Craig-Galvin and Lorenzo T. Hughes' twin portraits of dignity under duress as Calpurnia and Tom Robinson; Skip Pipo being diabolical as inbred bigot Bob Ewell. Beside these veterans, juveniles Brighid Fleming, L.J. Benet and Patrick Fitzsimmons hold their own with confidence as, respectively, Scout, Jem and Dill. But it is James Horan's weirdly accomplished, cadence-perfect mimicry of Gregory Peck's film performance as Atticus that proves the evening's perversely guilty pleasure. (Bill Raden). Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 20. (800) 838-3006.
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.
GO TWELFTHNIGHT marks the worthy launch of this theater's 17th season. With its multilayered plot, theatrical high jinks, silly sweetness and romance, Twelfth Night is one of the Bard's most popular works. With a nod to the traditional yuletide celebration after which the play is named, director J.C. Gafford's production features music, caroling, dancing and revelry. The setting of Illyria is here re-created as a large, raised platform, surrounded by a table set for a feast, kegs and some old boxes. Though not especially picturesque, it has a certain rustic appeal, and changes in scenes are smoothly handled by a member of the troupe with hand-painted placards. Kristina Mitchell does a fine turn as Viola, the main character in this romp of romance and mistaken identity, who is shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Sebastian (Jackson Thompson), on a different part of Illyria. She goes in disguise as a boy named Cesario, employed by the lovesick Duke Orsino (Jim Kohn), who uses her to court (on his behalf) his beloved but less-than-requiting Lady Olivia (Amy Clites). But Viola has herself fallen for her employer, the Duke, while his would-be mistress, Lady Olivia, finds herself smitten with the "boy" Viola is impersonating. The unraveling of this romantic knot makes for lively comedy under Gafford's smart direction, with uniformly good performances. Seth Margolies is a riot as the bumbling Sir Toby Belch. Casey E. Lewis, who puts one in mind of Stan Laurel, is equally funny as the comically foiled Malvolio, while Jason Rowland provides tons of laughs as the fool, Feste. (Lovell Estell III). Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (323) 667-0955.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
BROTHERS GRIMM'S 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; Fri., 11 p.m.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 25. (818) 202-4120.
CINDERELLA World Premiere interactive musical for kids, book by June Chandler, music and lyrics by Jane Fuller. Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Sat., 11 a.m.; thru Feb. 19. (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.
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.; thru Jan. 29. (818) 752-7568.
A MIXED TAPE Eric Edwards' retrospective of a lonely guy's love life. Playhouse West Repertory Theater, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Sun., 8 p.m.; thru March 27, amixedtape.com. (818) 332-3101.
NEW EYES Yafit Josephson gives an accomplished performance in her solo show about a Jewish actress facing down Hollywood's cultural stereotypes. It's marred only by a poorly designed slideshow. Josephson slips easily into various personae, combining characters with caricatures to good comedic effect. The opening has her switching from a formidable military officer to her nervous young self on her first day of compulsory military training in the Israeli army. Highlights include a hilarious mime sequence where she uncomprehendingly attempts yoga and another scene where she gives a goofy impression of a macho guy in an Israeli nightclub. Josephson's tall, slender build, piercing eyes and chiseled face lend her a commanding presence, but it's her prominent proboscis that relegates her to the usual gamut of villainous roles, from terrorist to evil witch -- "And no, they didn't have to use a fake nose," she jokes. Her adult journey takes her from the New World back to Israel, where she touches base with her culture, returning to Hollywood with newfound strength of character. Beneath the comedy lies a serious undercurrent stemming from the ongoing war in the Middle East: Land equals identity. (Pauline Adamek). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 13, plays411.com/neweyes. (323) 960-7712.
99 IMPOSSIBLE THINGS Though Chelsea Sutton's play is not set in Central Perk (there's no Rachel or Monica, no Ross or Chandler or Joey in Sutton's Magic Bean Coffee Shop locale), there is a Phoebe of sorts. Actually, there are six of them. But instead of performing amusingly absurd guitar songs, or recounting childhood tales of woe in hilarious ways, these "Phoebes," along with two imaginary friends and a guardian angel, simply ramble on about "what's real" and what's not through 12 largely incoherent scenes. There's barely a plot, a story, dramatic stakes or a protagonist, and the central conflict (the soul of the drama) emerges sporadically. Most of the dialogue sounds like a college improv show in which someone said, "OK, you hang out in a coffee shop, you have an imaginary friend but you're not sure why, and nobody else is either: Go!" Sutton's serving as writer, director and producer suggests a reason behind the absence of a critical or collaborative eye. Even the performances, save that of RJ Farrington (who portrays the guardian angel), lack sheen. The highlight of the production is Bryan Forrest's authentically detailed coffee shop set. (Mayank Keshaviah). Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (818) 508-3003.
SCHMUTZIGEN DEUTSCHE KABARETT This latest, late-night creation from sardonic, surrealist director-choreographer Amanda Marquardt is so straightforward and simple in its concept and execution that it's a wonder no one thought of it before. Take the Kander & Ebb musical classic Cabaret, jettison the treacly and preachy Joe Masteroff book, and stage the results as a brisk and breezy, melodrama-free evening of simulated Weimar nightclub entertainment. The schmutzigen is provided by the indecently flamboyant Luke Wright, who, from opener "Willkommen" through his solo on "I Don't Care Much" to the show's finale, vamps his way through an endless string of double entendres to stake a creditable claim to the role of MC that made Broadway stars of Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Marquardt herself appears as Sally Bowles (replete with Liza-like false eyelashes), displaying an appealing set of pipes on such signature numbers as "Don't Tell Mama," "Cabaret" and "Mein Herr." Wright returns (wearing little more than an uncredited but campy pair of tuxedo briefs) with chorines Skye Noel (also credited as dance captain and co-choreographer) and Eva Ganelis, as the trio strut their comic stuff in "Two Ladies." But, you might ask, if there's no book, what about the musical's politics -- and what does that have to do with us? Relax. Marquardt gets in her licks, and puts the Deutsche Kabarett, political-satire bite back into Cabaret with "High Chancellor," a hilarious, show-stealing strip number, with Jonica Patella in Hitler drag, bumping, grinding and goose-stepping to the Nazi march "Erika." (Bill Raden). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 11 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (818) 202-4120.
GO SMUDGE The birth of a child usually is seen as a joyful event -- but what if it isn't? In Rachel Axler's disturbing play, the lives of an expectant couple -- Colby (Heather Fox) and Nicholas (Mark Thomsen) -- are upended when Colby gives birth to a limbless being with a single eye. The infant is not only strange to look at; it also responds weirdly -- or, more commonly, not at all -- to attempts to communicate. At home all day, Colby reacts to it with despair and rage, but the ingenuous Nick, a census official, falls head over heels for his new baby girl -- although that doesn't keep him from concealing her oddity from his family, or forestall his mailing out a dissentious questionnaire to the public titled "What Could You Kill?" (Sample question: Could you kill a pig?) Nick's peculiar behavior corners the concern of his brother Peter (Bart Tangredi), a snide guy whose cynicism, within this piece, stands in for the world at large. Axler strews her unsettling story with harsh humor that might have offended but doesn't. Instead, higher motifs -- the definition of life, the limitations of love and the human struggle to adjust one's expectations to painful realities -- remain the production's paramount focus, under Darin Anthony's discerning direction. Tangredi's smarmy dude adds an edgy dynamic, while Thomsen is especially affecting as a man struggling for his illusions -- and his sanity. Joe Slawinski's sound design elaborates nicely on the couple's nightmare. Presented by Syzygy Theatre. (Deborah Klugman). GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank; 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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (626) 256-3809.
THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN 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. (Rebecca Haithcoat). ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 5. (818) 202-4120.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
NEW REVIEW GO ADDING MACHINE: THE MUSICAL In Joshua Schmidt and Jason Loewith's adaptation of Elmer Rice's 1923 satire of accountants slaving for The Man in cubicles, a shlub named Zero (Clifford Morts, in a marvelously cantakerous turn reminiscent of the late Carroll O'Connor) eagerly awaits some reward on the 25th anniversary of his hiring. Instead, he's fired, having been replaced by an adding machine. Rice's play was written before the days of pensions and labor unions and the kinds of post War labor protections that, incidentally, accompanied the most robust economic boom this country has every experienced. It was also written five years before the Great Depression. It now arrives as almost all those protections have been swept away, and our economy teeters precariously once more - cursed by economic conditions and employment practices that in so many ways, resemble those of 1923. Yet neither the play nor this musical adaptation is primarily about economics, but rather about metaphysics, which would explain director Ron Sossi's fascination with it. The operatic, often dissonant and percussive music has almost no melody, which is exactly right in a story that drives a spike through the heart of sentimentality and romance. Zero's wife is a hideous, jealous, nagging monstrosity - that would be the character, not Kelly Lester's spirited interpretation that contains echos of Angela Lansbury. The colleague who loved Zero unrequitedly (the marvelous Christine Horn) joins him in the after-life. For the way God really works, and the way dead souls are recycled, you have to see the show. Sossi directs a strong production, though with minimal silk drops representing the afterlife, it didn't look much different from the drab life herein. That minimalism does subvert the moral joke. Patrick Kenny's musical direction strikes nice balances between the onstage band and the singers. The actors just need to settle in and push out the fun they're already having. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., WLA; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Feb. 27 perf at 7 p.m.) thru March 20. (310) 4770-2055. (Steven Leigh Morris)
CAUGHT IN THE NET Ray Cooney's Internet-inspired sequel to sex farce Run for Your Wife. Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 828-7519.
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 Feb. 20. (310) 397-3244.
FIVE UNEASY PIECES Todd Waring's study of diverse characters, including an elderly Southern woman, an Aussie art teacher, and a French singer. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, plays411.com/five. (323) 960-5521.
GROUP: A MUSICAL A therapy session's powerful emotions and needs should be a fine match for the intensified drama of musical theater, and for book writer/lyricist Adam Emperor Southard's uneven and intellectually ambitious musical about group therapy. Sadly, though, director Richard Tatum's lackluster production is marred by flat acting and indifferent music (by Josh Allan Dykstra). As kindly psychiatrist Dr. Allen (Isaac Wade, nicely intense) starts his new group-therapy practice, he opts to try an experiment: hiring a rock band. The songster shrink prescribes that his patients "sing" their confessions and arguments in session, on the theory that rock music will allow troubled souls to find inner peace. It is, of course, a daffy idea that would give Jung nightmares he hadn't already diagnosed, and would make Freud drop his cigar. Yet Dr. Allen's troop of patients obediently warble their way through their neuroses. Likable college student Paul (Michael Hanson) belts a song about not being able to have a relationship, while gay kid Chris (Evan Wall) operatically finds the strength to come out to his dad. Other members of their group find closure for their problems, as well -- in song, natch. Although Tatum's sometimes haltingly paced production can't be faulted for sincerity or good intentions, it suffers from a double whammy: The generic-therapy conflicts strain to engender our sympathy, while the songs are a collection of slight melodies and unexceptional lyrics along the lines of, "You've got your issues. Here, take a tissue." The ensemble works together well, crafting a set of engaging characters, but a lack of training is frequently evident in their singing. (Paul Birchall). 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.
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 Feb. 27. (310) 822-8392.
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; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 6, 7 p.m.; Thurs., Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 512-6030.
SOCIETY MURDER MYSTERY Kentwood Players present by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jr.'s detective-thriller spoof. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., W.L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 19. (310) 645-5156.
2 PIANOS 4 HANDS 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; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 13. (858) 481-2155.