Stage Raw: Theatrification and Broadway 100
STAGE FEATURE on Tim Crouch's The Author, and the Belarus Free Theatre
L.A. WEEKLY THEATER AWARDS NOMINEES
THEATRIFICATION AND BROADWAY 100
The kickoff is at the Million Dollar Theatre with Theatrefication, the launch-event for the Los Angeles Broadway centennial celebration, BROADWAY 100. Other partners include the Los Angeles Conservancy, REDCAT, and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
Theatrefication features two avant-garde performances; a world premiere play with music by David J (Bauhaus and Love And Rockets), and an electropera (opera set to electronic dance music) by Helene Federici. Artist Shepard Fairey will be spinning a DJ set for the exclusive after party.
David J's The Chanteuse and the Devil's Muse sheds a chilling new light and a long-awaited reveal of the culprit behind the famous Hollywood cold case of the Black Dahlia with live music (a collaboration between David J and Ebola Music Orchestra's Ego Plum). This performance will also features the world renowned butoh artist, Vangeline.
Helene Federici's ET Mostavy is a tale of intergalactic turmoil told by the journalist who is trying to broadcast the opposing viewpoints. With an original electronic dance score by Chris Yanson, this electropera features stunning 3-D animation projections by Michael Allen, and incorporates the talents of the L.A. Breakers, Xtreme Motion, and operatic soloist Rachel Staples. Select pieces from the couture design house, SKINGRAFT, will be used as costumes.
For COMPLETE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below.
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS for February 25 - March 3, 2011
The Berlin Dig
Photo by John Stuercke
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
THE ADVENTURES OF PINNOCCIO Commedia dell'arte take on Carlo Collodi's classic story of a puppet boy, dramatized by Lee Hall. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; opens Feb. 25; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sat., March 26, 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (818) 762-2998.
AVENUE Q The NYC-based 2004 Tony Award winner for Best Musical features David Colston Corris, Ashley Eileen Bucknam, and Michael Liscio Jr. for this eight-performance run in Hollywood., $25-$90. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; opens March 1; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., March 5, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 5. (213) 365-3500.
BEING HAROLD PINTER The Global Theatre Project presents a staged reading in support of the Belarus Free Theatre, as part of its Gala Benefit program. The cast is toplined by James Cromwell and Ed Harris and directed by Bari Hochwald. One night only. Go to www.theglobaltheatreproject.org for reservation information. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A.; Fri., Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m.. (866) 811-4111.
BROKEN GLASS Elina de Santos directs this Arthur Miller play, set in late 1930s Brooklyn., $27-$30; students $20. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb. 25; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 821-2449.
CINDERELLA Cendrillon Parson's Nose Productions presents Charles Perrault 17th-century "real" story of Cinderella. Ages 9 and up. For tickets go to www.parsonsnose.tix.com., $20; $10 children and seniors. Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; Sat., Feb. 26, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 2 p.m.; Sat., March 5, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 2 p.m.. (626) 844-7008.
A HOUSE NOT MEANT TO STAND Tennessee Williams' gothic comedy and final play is shown for the first time on the West Coast. Directed by Simon Levy., $25-$35; $18 students. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 26; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 18. (323) 663-1525.
KING LEAR A Wild West staging of Shakespeare's classic tragedy, set in the sprawling California of the 1850s. Directed by Marianne Savell., $30; $25 seniors; $20 students. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., L.A.; opens Feb. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 p.m.; thru March 13. (323) 462-8460.
LOVE SUCKS A 48-hour romp through the bars, backseats and bathroom stalls of New York City's Lower East Side, written and directed by Rob Mersola. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; opens Feb. 25; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 11...
MEXICAN HISTORY 101 Ruben Amavizca-Murua's history lesson. (Fri. in English; Sat.-Sun. in Spanish). Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; opens Feb. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 27. (213) 382-8133.
MONDAYS LA.: NAKED AND FURIOUS Naked Angels and Furious Theatre
Company present monthly readings of new plays, screenplays, or TV
pilots. This month: Shatter Street, a screenplay by Matt Pelfrey. St. Nick's, 8450 W. Third St., L.A.; Mon., Feb. 28, 8 p.m.. (323) 655-6917.
ONE NIGHT TO DIE FOR For Scott Dittman directs two comedies in one night, Audience, by Michael Frayn, and Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound., $20; $18 students/seniors. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A.; opens Feb. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 21. (323) 667-0955.
SWEET MAMA STRING BEAN: A CELEBRATION OF BLUES WOMAN ETHEL WATERS ValLimar Jansen portrays Ethel Waters, the first African American woman to star on a national radio show and a TV series, in this musical play. Three performances only., $20-$25. The Grove Theatre, 276 E. 9th St., Upland; Fri., Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 2 p.m.. (909) 920-4343.
'TIL DEATH DO US PART: LATE NITE CATECHISM 3 The latest installment to be unveiled in this sinfully funny series which includes the original Late Nite Catechism, Late Nite Catechism 2 and Sister's Christmas Catechism. Starring Maripat Donovan, thru April 3rd., $28. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; opens March 3; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru April 4. (626) 356-PLAY.
TEN-MINUTE PLAY READING FESTIVAL From the Circle X Theatre Co. Writers' Group, nine short plays about love and sex. For tickets and more info please visit www.circlextheatre.org., $10. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; opens Feb. 25; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 27. (213) 368-9552.
2011 MEETS 1968 Staged readings of one-act plays by student historians, presented by Young Theaterworks Through the Ages. (In the Margo Albert Theatre.). Plaza de la Raza, 3540 N. Mission Rd., L.A.; Wed., March 2, 10:30 a.m.; Thurs., March 3, 7 p.m.. (323) 223-2475.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
NEW REVIEW GO THE AUTHOR Our complacency toward the violence swirling within and immediately around us forms the crux of Tim Crouch's fascinating performance piece, first commissioned by London's Royal Court Theatre, and presented through this weekend at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Like Crouch's An Oak Tree, which the Odyssey Theatre hosted last year, Crouch (with co-director Karl James) grapples theatrically with the creation of theater and of our willingness to suspend disbelief, well beyond the theater walls -- such as the pretenses that we're free and rational and cozy and safe and humane. Two banks of bleachers face each other, with barely a corridor to pass between them. The four actors (Crouch, Chris Goode, Vic Llewellyn and Esther Smith) sit parked in the bleachers amidst the audience, and the purpose of the event seems to drift pointlessly at the start. Goode, portraying a Royal Court Theatre subscriber, gushes with an enthusiasm that borders on stupidity at the anticipation of waiting for something to happen in the theater (in which there is no stage). Crouch then pipes in with an erotic account of visiting a water-flotation treatment after a trauma that's going to emerge as the story's core. Smith portrays the "actress" who, in the "play" that's only recalled but never enacted, plays a girl molested by her father (played by Llewellyn). Smith, like Goode, conveys a gooey, perky warmth. Smith even shows snapshots of her "real life" daughter to her neighbors in the audience -- a gesture swimming in goodwill, and which will ultimately emerge as perverse. Can't reveal more details without ruining the experience, other than to say the piece's playfulness is itself a suspension of pornographic horrors that lurk in the society we subscribe to, if we have an Internet connection. Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; Fri., Feb. 18, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 19, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 20, 6:30 p.m.; Through Feb. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 26, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 6:30 p.m.. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
BOOMERMANIA Baby Boomer musical lampoon, written and directed by Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 27, boomermaniathemusical.com. (866) 811-4111.
THE BREAK OF NOON This may the only positive review of Neil LaBute's play that you're likely to read. It's been roasted by critics from coast to coast since it premiered in late 2010 at New York's MCC Theatre. The consensus of opinion is that the play is too single-toned, too thin even for its extended one-act form, its central character is too obviously obnoxious, and Jo Bonney's flashy direction tries to compensate with glitz for the play's missing heart. Unfortunately, they've got it all backwards. You get a clearer sense of the play's ambitions from reading it than from seeing this production. Bonney's glitz doesn't apologize for the play's lack of substance. Rather, it pulverizes the substance that's so clearly in the words, and in the dramatic situations surrounding them. In the published version, the opening stage directions call for his central character John Smith (here played by Kevin Anderson) to be blinded by a harsh light, from which, in his daze, he attempts to distinguish the light from the dark. Bonney (who also directed the play's New York premiere), subjects the audience to the same sensation. This makes some conceptual sense while preventing us from concentrating on the more subtle threads that connect the sequence of short scenes, and provide the play its meaning. In the opening scene John describes a massacre at his work place, a scene of carnage created by a deranged ex-employee to whom John had given his walking papers. And yet John was the only survivor - reason enough for this solipsist to believe that he was chosen to be God's vessel, to espouse a better way of life, as though the pile of innocent dead whom he did nothing to save were less worthy for this task. John markets his abhorrent philosophy first with a cell phone photograph of the carnage, and then with appearances on talk shows, which understandably earn him the hatred of people who know better - which is everybody else in the play, and probably much of the general American population. The key to this play lies in the quality of the John's self-deception, and that's a very subtle, crucial and revelatory truth to depict - impossible to see amidst the flashing lights and sound effects that define this production. (Steven Leigh Morris). Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 6. (310) 208-5454.
THE CATHOLIC GIRL'S GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR VIRGINITY Annie Hendy's story of a Midwestern virgin who's determined to have sex before her impending 25th birthday. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru March 6. (818) 955-8101.
CATS Cats Musical Theatre West presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's feline musical. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, musical.org. (562) 985-7000.
GO DANGEROUS BEAUTY Though the paper-thin story line rushes toward predictability with the passing of every prepackaged plot point, exquisite production values and outstanding singing grace the debut of this musical about a 16th-century courtesan. Based on a true story, Jeannine Dominy's book centers on Veronica Franco (Jenny Powers), a poet of simple means who suffers a blow to the heart when her lover, Marco (James Snyder), protects his status as a future senator by marrying a woman of superior social standing. Heartbroken and headstrong, Veronica chooses to follow in her mother's (Laila Robins) footsteps by becoming a courtesan, a position in which she furthers her brilliance via special access to a bounty of books, while avenging her heartache in the beds of princes and prelates. Witty rhymes and wanton ways make Veronica one of the most powerful women in Venice until she gets into a spat with the increasingly evil Maffio (Bryce Ryness) and puzzlingly trades in her sought-after status for an exclusive affair with the now-married Marco. Things go from fancifully romantic to blandly tragic when Veronica is accused of witchcraft by the Inquisition. The hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold tale doesn't get elevated to any new heights here, but Powers sings the tunes of virtuous maiden and fallen angel with heaven-sent pipes. Snyder holds his own, too, though his character is too one-dimensional to account for the sexually adept and wickedly smart Veronica's long-lasting attraction to him. Ryness brings a rock & roll edge to his portrayal of the villain, but his lack of control prevents a seamless connection with the rest of the ensemble; his performance has the awkward feel of a hair-band guy trying to jam with indie-folk types. Benoit-Swan Pouffer does subtle wonders with the choreography and Soyon An's costumes are artful. The set, by Tom Buderwitz, grabs focus whenever the story doesn't. (Amy Lyons). Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 6. (626) 356-PLAY.NEW REVIEW ETHEL MERMAN'S BROADWAY Most people of a certain age recall Broadway musical legend Ethel Merman, described by a Time columnist in a 1940 cover story as "a dynamic baggage with syncopation in every breath ... and a voice with the hard, clarion forthrightness of a jazz trumpet." In this solo show, performer Rita McKenzie re-creates Merman, proffering a nostalgic sojourn to fans and Broadway musical aficionados. Directed by Christopher Powich and backed by a seven-piece band directed and conducted by David Snyder, McKenzie delivers renditions of celebrated songs, many by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, interspersed with a biographical account of Merman's life, from her early career efforts, while a young secretary from Queens, up through her last successful musical, Hello Dolly. McKenzie comfortably wraps herself in Merman's brassy broad persona for what aims to be a chatty series of revelations to the audience. But while the external mannerisms ring true -- the nasal twang in her voice, the unabashed me-ism of her attitude -- the performance I saw lacked a fresh edge. (Not surprising, since McKenzie began impersonating Merman as early as 1989.) That said, most audience members seemed to be enjoying themselves. Eric Winterling's glitzy costumes contribute the requisite glamour. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 3 & 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through Feb. 27. (818) 508-4200. (Deborah Klugman)
NEW REVIEW GO GIGI
Nearly as old as the transition of a script from Broadway to Hollywood is the reverse, a process of adaptation that has created both stage gems like Mary Poppins and stage horrors (literally) like Carrie: The Musical. But with talents like Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) behind it, this staging of the film classic is much more like the former than the latter. The story takes place in 1901 Paris and explores the exploits of wealthy bon vivant Gaston (Matt Cavenaugh), who takes after his uncle Honore (William Atherton), but becomes bored easily. His main diversion is visiting his uncle's lady friend, Mamita (Millicent Martin), and playing cards with her bubbly granddaughter, Gigi (Lisa O'Hare). Gigi is being groomed to be a high-class courtesan by her Aunt Alicia (Susan Denaker), but things get complicated when Gaston falls for her. The highlight of the show is Lerner's book and lyrics, with clever turns of phrase that are, at times, like Noel Coward set to music. Director David Lee masterfully maintains the mischief of the characters, extracting solid performances from a talented cast, and Jared A. Sayeg's lighting paints Paris in princely purple hues. O'Hare's dew-fresh charm in her perky rendition of the title role is a pleasure to watch, as are her scenes with Denaker, whose perfectly pitched Alicia is like Lady Bracknell in a looser corset. Atherton and Martin show great chemistry on the classic "I Remember It Well." Freud Playhouse at UCLA, Macgowan Hall, 405 Hilgard Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., through Feb. 27. (310) 825-2101, reprise.org. A Reprise Theatre Company Production. (Mayank Keshaviah)
IN MOTHER WORDS Theatrical anthology by Beth Henley, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Leslie Ayvazian, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Lameece Isaaq, Claire LaZebnik, Marco Pennette, Lisa Ramirez, Annie Weisman and Cheryl L. West. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru May 1. (310) 208-5454.
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.
LUCKY DUCK Animals "talk, sing and do complicated choreography," book by Bill Russell and Jeffrey Hatcher, music by Henry Krieger, lyrics by Bill Russell. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; Through Feb. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 26, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.. (714) 708-5555.
MASTER HAROLD . . . AND THE BOYS Athol Fugard's drama about an adolescent white South African conflicted over racism. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 6. (805) 667-2900.
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.
GO MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS After firing director George Cukor and fearing that his film Gone With the Wind will never get back on schedule, producer David O. Selznick (Roy Abramsohn) essentially kidnaps brainy screenwriter Ben Hecht (Matt Gottlieb) and macho director Victor Fleming (Brendan Ford), forcing them into captivity with only bananas and peanuts for brain fuel until they come up with a script and a shooting plan. There is a kernel of truth to this tale, but mostly it's a frame for farce as the men hurl insults at one another, interrupted occasionally by ditzy secretary Miss Poppenghul (Emily Eiden). The comedy picks up steam and has the audience rapt when, most interestingly, Roy Hutchinson's play takes a turn that's striking for its intelligence. In extremis of weariness and emotional rawness, the repartee begins to sound like the kind of aesthetic and political discussion so well created for the art world in Yasmina Reza's Art. What originally were jibes about Jews running Hollywood transform into important discussions about power, responsibility and the society of 1930s America. Director Andrew Barnicle overplays the farce, but he skillfully handles the more sober moments, complementing the talents of the fine cast. Bruce Goodrich's handsome set provides the perfect atmosphere --especially as it gets trashed through the week of nonstop artistic agony. (Tom Provenzano). Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Sun., 2 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; thru March 6. (818) 558-7000.
ROCK OF AGES It's 1987 on the Sunset Strip! Tunes courtesy Journey, Bon Jovi, Poison, et al. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (800) 982-ARTS.
33 VARIATIONS An American musicologist, Dr. Katherine Brandt (Jane Fonda), goes to Bonn, Germany, to visit the highly protected archives of Beethoven's manuscripts. She's possessed by a question: Why, when he was in physical and mental decline, did Ludwig van B. (Zach Grenier) concentrate his godly talent cranking out 33 variations on a minor, quaint waltz composed and commissioned by an Italian music publisher named Anton Diabelli (Don Amendolia), who had only asked for one variation from both LVB and Vienna's other best and brightest composers. In the surrealistic swirl of his often beautiful play, enhanced by musical director Diane Walsh's gorgeous live piano accompaniment, writer-director Moises Kaufman settles on a deeply refreshing theme that spins the definition of mediocre into the exact opposite of that found in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Instead, Kaufman keeps snobbery at bay by accusing those who label a work, or a person, as mediocre of being blind themselves. For Beethoven found in Diabelli's prosaic waltz endless opportunities for invention --so much so that he delayed his Requiem Mass in order to keep exploring the tune. And this, the play suggests, is an allegory for how we, too, can find richness in what we wrongly presume to be the mundanities of life. Kaufman spins this idea through the relationship between the specialist, mono-focused Brandt and her dilettante daughter (nice performance by Samantha Mathis). Brandt keeps wondering when the child will settle down and make something of herself. Except for Grenier's slightly cartoonish Beethoven, enabled by the slightly less cartoonish portrayal of his caretaker, Anton Schindler (Grant James Varjas), so far so good. However, it's the play's dramatic crux, making it a star vehicle for Fonda, that undoes the event; for Brandt has Lou Gehrig's disease, a somewhat strained attempt to add the stakes of dwindling time to her search, to parallel her own mortality with that of Beethoven, to infuse the drama with gratuitous morbidity and to give Fonda the opportunity to physically implode before our eyes, which she does with stirring conviction and technique. But this play isn't Margaret Edson's Wit, and its thematic focus isn't mortality, and how one has lived; it's primarily about the relationship between mediocrity and excellence in music and in life, and Brandt's disease crashes into that like an uninvited drug dealer at a masked ball. (Steven Leigh Morris). Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru March 6. (213) 628-2772.
NEW REVIEW WRINKLES
Paul Kikuchi's blithe, slight comedy is a paean to that most unlikely of heroes: the dirty old man. And, really, if the tragedy of King Lear is that of an elderly fellow who "shouldst not have been old til (he) hadst been wise," how much nicer a world it is when a man can be both old and a horndog. Tightly wound lawyer mom Nancy (Amy Hill) finds a bag of sex toys in the garage and mistakenly assumes they belong to her innocent teenage son, Jason (Ki Kong Lee). However, when the toys turn out to belong to Nancy's octogenarian live-in dad, Harry (Sab Shimono), her head starts spinning like the jigger on the Hello Kitty vibrator. It turns out Harry has a burgeoning career in a niche film industry known overseas as "elder porn." And, when Harry turns out to be "huge in Japan," it only means complications for his bemused family. Director Jeff Liu's cheerfully brisk pacing and the cast's engaging comic timing help keep Kikuchi's lightweight farce from edging into dark or disturbing terrain. Kikuchi's appealingly glib dialogue boasts endless snarky one-liners -- he certainly gets plenty of mileage from that old gag genre known as the "mock porn title" (Lady and the Gramps and Joy Suck Club, to name but a pair). Yet there's also something a little distasteful about the piece's steadfastly surface-level approach to the porn world's creepier aspects -- and the farce's energy wanes midway through, when the play's one joke has reached its saturation point. Still, the show's saved by deft and hilarious turns from Hill's ferocious "tiger mom," and by the gruff, understated Shimono, as the world's most unlikely (yet strangely charismatic) porn star. East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 13. (213) 625-7000. (Paul Birchall)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
GO ALCESTE Euripides' version of a Greek myth serves as ground zero for playwright B. Walker Sampson's surreal comedy about the otherworldly journey of two long-term lovers separated by death. Imaginatively staged on a small proscenium by director Darin Dahms, the comic-strip action takes place in a strange dreamscape (set and prop design by Naomi Kasahara) peopled with hooded figures, squabbling ghosts, outsized heroines and supernaturally powerful villains. Foreseeing the imminent death of Adamet (Trevor Olsen, in drag), her beloved Alceste (Lorianne Hill), a gentle accepting soul, follows the sinister counsel of an unearthly scoundrel named Man With Blazing Necktie (Lynn Odell), who proposes to take Alceste's life instead. Soon, a cloaked ferryman (Ezra Buzzington) is escorting a timorous Alceste to the netherworld, while a lonely and bewildered Adamet fends off the seductive embraces of Man's titillating oracle, Woman in Bright Bathing Suit (Jennifer Flack). Meanwhile, a secondary story line tracks the exploits of a comical superheroine named Frigga Brenda (Julia Prud'homme), who boldly slays giants and monsters but comes undone at the hands of the dastardly Man and his female cohort. Oblique dialogue and the seemingly lateral movement of the plot make the first part of the play slow going --but even this slack stretch comes bolstered by well-crafted performances and striking production values, including lighting and sound design by Michael Roman and Ryan Brodkin, respectively, along with Jeremy McDonald's backdrop animation and Takashi Morimoto's inspired costumes. Most memorable within the adept ensemble are Prud'homme and Odell, in blazing command of their outrageous characters. (323) 856-8611. (Deborah Klugman). Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 12. (323) 856-8611.
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.
BAR TALK Jay Parker's comedy set in a local bar. Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.. (626) 457-5293.
BARENAKED READING SERIES Barefoot Theatre Company presents new plays from emerging and established playwrights, followed by a Q&A, live music and free drinks. Art of Acting Studio, 1017 N. Orange Dr., L.A.; Through Feb. 26, 8 p.m.. (323) 876-5481.NEW REVIEW THE BERLIN DIG
Photo by John Stuercke
Playwright John Stuercke's attempted exploration of ideas and ideology about fascism and world politics results in a stupefying mash: The play takes place in present-day Berlin, where Dieter (Roy Allen), after the funeral services for his mother, plays host to old friends Peter (Irwin Moskowitz) and Rolf (Markus Obermeier). It isn't long before the conversation turns to family ties, to times past and the Nazi era, sparking a drawn-out, vapid exposition about history, complicity and German guilt. It's here that Stuercke's pen goes a-wandering, and doesn't seem to know where to settle, as the discussion turns to contemporary politics, racism, immigration in Germany and America, oil, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the auto industry, Bush and Cheney, the Kennedy assassination, slavery, communism, even the Armenian Genocide, all of which transpires in the span of two benevolently short acts. In Act 2, Stuercke, who also directs, mixes in a little bit of suspense, when it's revealed that Dieter's father was really a Nazi, and a relative arrives from America. By this time, it doesn't matter. Completing the misfire are German accents better suited to Hogan's Heroes and terrible performances that bury whatever potential the play may have had. El Centro Theatre, 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through March 6. (800) 838-3006. (Lovell Estell III)
THE BEST OF LOVE BITES: 10 YEARS TOGETHER . . . AND STILL NO RING
Elephant Theatre Company's annual short play festival, presenting the
company's best one-acts of the past decade. (Two evenings run in rep.).
Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Fri., 8
March 18, ElephantTheatreCompany.com. (877) 369-9112.
THE BEVERLY HILLS PSYCHIATRIST This double bill of one-acts by German scholar-educator-playwright Cornelius Schnauber makes it clear he is not a fan of psychiatry. The title play tells us about the Psychiatrist (Alexander Zale) and his maddening treatment of his long-suffering Patient (Tony Motzenbacher), a writer fraught with anxieties. The doctor is absent-minded --he can never remember his patient's name --and tends to fall asleep during therapy sessions; whenever he's asked a concrete question, he evades it and ends the session. This goes on for 19 maddeningly repetitious scenes, during which one can only wonder why the patient doesn't just leave. At the end, the patient finally does realize his doctor is a fraud, but it's too little and too late. Perhaps Schnauber was attempting a Pinterian conundrum, but Pinter was never this dull. The second play, "Highway One," is actually an excerpt from a longer work, consisting of a monologue by an opera singer (Lene Pedersen) as she prepares to perform Aida and worries about the daughter she gave up for adoption years before. Director Louis Fantasia stages the pieces ably enough, and there is excellent work by the three actors, but they can't save the plays from themselves. (Neal Weaver). Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 6, plays411.com/beverlyhills. (323) 960-4418.
BUT NOT FOR LOVE This long one-act by Matthew Everett, originally commissioned by the Playshop Theatre in Meadville, Pa., tackles the hotly contested subject of gay marriage. Eleanor (Krystal Kennedy) and her brother Ephram (John Croshaw) are getting married in a double wedding --and both are marrying men, turning the event into a media circus, with protestors, news vans and cops camped outside the church. Eleanor and Ephram's husband-to-be, Patrick (Andy Loviska), are political activists, who want their wedding to be a public statement, while Ephram and Eleanor's fiance, Roland (Chadbourne Hamblin), resent having their private lives turned into a political spectacle. Things are further complicated by Patrick's brother (Nick Sousa), who's a religious zealot, determined to prevent the wedding by any means necessary, and the minister, known as The Duchess (Natasha St. Clair-Johnson), who's a postoperative transsexual. And Duke (Patrick Tiller), the cop assigned to monitor the demonstrations, is strongly attracted to the Duchess, unaware of her gender change. The production, helmed by director Richard Warren Baker, is most successful in its quieter, more human moments than in its strident political declarations, when it topples over into melodrama. The events are not always credible, but there are strong performances from Sousa, St. Clair-Johnson and Tiller. (Neal Weaver). Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 13, plays411.com/forlove. (323) 960-4443.
BUTTERFLY Michael Antin's musical tale of a shy girl and a psychologist. Write Act Theater, 6128 Yucca St., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (323) 469-3113.
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 April 3. (800) 595-4849.
GO CRACK WHORE GALORE -- LIVE! Created by Tonya Corneilisse, Ryan Oliver, Danny Roew, Graham Sibley and director Gates McFadden, this obscenely funy late night rock music comedy sketch features Cornelisse and Sibley as a pair of Brit-trash rockers who met in a London rehab and somehow made it it to Hollywood, or at least to its sidewalks, in pursuit of Rock 'n' Roll stardom. Their band is called Crack Whore, and their hourlong cabaret opens with warmup balladeer Jackie Tohn, on acoustic guitar, crooning with remarkable vocal dexterity about low self-esteem and love. Into her act crash wafer thin, obnoxiously loud drummer Abbey (in shades, skirt, and torn fishnets) and guitarist Danny Galore (in vest and ripped shirt) wielding a shopping cart filled with mannequins and other crap for their act. Commenting loudly on how each of Tohn's song is worse than the next, they "set up" behind her, while she attempts to finish her act. They smash open a rolldown screen (to be used for a preview of their sex tape, sold after the show in the lobby). The moment when the livid Tone leaves the stage captures the moment when '60s folk yielded to punk. What follows is pornography in song. You'd think Abbey is beyond a melt-down, but in a moment of despondency, she crawls inside the shopping cart: "I can't do this anymore, Danny, I just can't." To woo her back, and out, he croons the love song that he wrote just for her: "It's all clogged up/The pressure's all built up/I think I might explode/Now I need to blow my fucking load . . ." Abbey swoons in adoration, and they're back on track. The power of love, and of song. They try to tell us their "story," or to sell us their story --which is the larger point --but can't agree on the details. She's told a wrong version so many times, he can't quite grasp what's real anymore. There, but for the grace of God . . . It's not a life-changing event, but the energy electrifies, the music is surprisingly good, and the performances are top-tier. (Steven Leigh Morris). Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru March 12, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. (323) 644-1929.
GO THE CRADLE WILL ROCK When Orson Welles attempted to open his production of this Marc Blitzstein musical in 1937, it had to contend with attempts to shut it down by the U.S. Congress, the bureaucrats of the Federal Theatre Project and Actors' Equity. The fact that it was able to open at all was epic. In Blitzstein's work, the cradle represents not the sleeping baby of the lullaby, but a corrupt and immoral establishment bent on co-opting every aspect of American life. In Steeltown, USA, in 1937, local tycoon Mr. Mister (Peter Van Norden) has corrupted press, church, educators, artists and doctors to serve his greed and power hunger. He's opposed only by labor organizer Larry Foreman (Rex Smith, looking and sounding like the quintessential 1930s working-class hero), who leads a stirring call to action. Generic names like Reverend Salvation (Christopher Carroll) and Dr. Specialist (Rob Roy Cesar) are standard elements of agit-prop theater, but here the characters are given enough personal eccentricities to keep them funny and human. In bringing back many elements of his 1995 production for this same theater, director Daniel Henning gives us a lively, rousing, highly stylized version and doesn't patronize us by overinsisting on the obvious contemporary parallels. There are terrific performances from musical director David O and a hugely talented cast of 19, with special kudos to Smith, Gigi Bermingham as a soign<0x00E9> Mrs. Mister, Tiffany C. Adams, Jack Laufer, David Trice, Will Barker, Lowe Taylor, Matt Wolpe and several others. (Neal Weaver). Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 20, TheBlank.com. (323) 661-9827.
GO CYCLOPS: A ROCK OPERA It gets so wearying --all the satyr plays being done in L.A. ... No, hold on, sorry: Was confusing satyr plays with autobiographical solo shows. Satyr plays are an ancient Greek oddity: violent, erotic, comedic concoctions that used to be performed with three tragedies in annual festivals. Only one still exists, Cyclops by Euripides, filched from the Homeric legend of Odysseus being drawn to the shores of Mt. Aetna by the seductive love call of the Sirens. In Louis Butelli, Chas LiBretto & Robert Richmond's scintillating rock-opera adaptation, featuring a hedonistic band (The Satyrs) in goat-skin pantaloons and a bare-chested drummer (Stephen Edelstein), that love call sounds like so much caterwauling. Co-directed by the co-adapters, the event recalls Radoslaw Rychik's adaptation of Bernard-Marie Koltes' In the Solitude of Cotton Fields last year at REDCAT --a similar kind of rock cantata backed up by the Polish band Natural Born Chillers. Here, almost everyone's eyes are rimmed in goth black paint, and half the cast have fingernails to match. The music ranges from twisted ukulele-accompanied ballads, to Mick Jagger and punk lampoons, singing the story of how Odysseus (LiBretto) subjugated (by intoxicating with wine and then blinding) the one-eyed cycloptic monster, Polyphemus (Jayson Landon Marcus), who has been holding Dionysus (Casey Brown) captive, along with almost everyone else in the shadow of the mountain. (Polyphemus is the embittered son of Poseidon, if you follow such things.) A trio of gorgeous Maenads (Nicole Flannigan, Madeleine Hamer, Liz Sydah), attired in figure-clenching silks (costumes by Caiti Hawkins), serve as back-up singers (and more). One of them mentions that cruelty in life brings a legacy of contempt, whereas kindness brings a legacy of enduring love. This beautiful idea doesn't sound particularly Greek, given their rigid codes of honor and revenge. Whether or not Homer or Euripides gave it lip service, that Shakespearean notion anchors and gives this ancient comic-book update its humanity, a moral hall pass for the hedonism it wallows in so glee-fully, and with such style and skill. (Steven Leigh Morris). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Through March 4, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html...
GO DADDY 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 into 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. (Neal Weaver). Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 13. (323) 856-4249.
DIRT Writer-director Bruce Gooch's barnyard gothic is set on a farm where the horses are dead, the cows sold and the dog eaten by coyotes. Mom's dead, too, and son Zac (Ryan Johnston) is in exile. This leaves Papa (John D. Johnston) alone to work the land, whether or not it needs working, because it's a sin to slack. (The Johnstons are real-life nephew and uncle.) Set designer David Potts has draped the walls in dense netting and installed a front porch that looms like a gallows. It's an apt backdrop for when Zac returns to find his muscular pops has gone dangerously senile. And as the set is stockpiled with a hatchet, knife, saw and shotgun, I'd take Dad seriously when he threatens that he won't leave his land without a fight. Though Ryan Johnston is miscast as the estranged son, his clashes with John D. Johnston spark. Too often, however, Gooch has them communicate to each other (and us) through monologues and memories; the script sidesteps as often as it allows them to butt horns head-on. Andrea Robinson is quite fine as a local waitress who swings by to check on the fellas, but the stars of the show are the evocative technics (even if in one climax, the symbolic thunder drowned out the big speech) and the elder Johnston, whose presence dominates the play like a frontier Fury. Post-Lennie Smalls, overall-clad dementia is tricky business --at times, the play seems to want the subtitle "Of Mice and Dad" -- but veteran actor John D. Johnston pivots on a nail head from mulish to brutish to yearning, giving the play an immediacy it needs to unleash. (Amy Nicholson). 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.
EMILY'S SONG Its promo tagline, "An epic musical journey straight to your heart," would seem to place writer-director Chet Holmes' musical in the same category as straight-to-video releases with similar epithets. Considering Holmes' background in screenwriting and his desire to tell "highly satisfying commercial stories that appeal to the masses," it's hardly surprising that his foray into musical theater fits the bill. In it, aspiring musician Charlie Everson (Tom Schmid) gains a daughter and loses a wife on the same day. Though young Emily (Darcy Rose Byrnes) grows up motherless, her talent for music brings her close to her father. Then one fateful evening, Charlie disappears, leaving Emily an orphan with housekeeper and de facto nanny Rosa (Elena Campbell-Martinez) as her only family. The next 10 years involve both older Emily (Lindsey Haun) rising to stardom as a singer, and Charlie starting over after he is robbed of his memory. Although the premise is interesting, the problem is that the story is told so cinematically: There are close to 100 scenes, some of which are four lines long before a blackout. While this may work on screen, it is disjointed and jarring on stage. The songs, co-written with Amanda Holmes and Tom Shepard, are pleasantly melodic, but many are too short to be musically satisfying. Still, Haun's voice is a highlight of the show, and she and Schmid do the numbers justice. The two of them, along with the perky and precocious Byrnes, are very talented performers, but, like the rest of the cast, they're constrained by the formulaic and at times melodramatic storytelling. (Mayank Keshaviah). Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 960-7788.
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.
FREE $$$ Jonas Oppenheim's faux self-improvement workshop, hosted by Robin and Randy Petraeus, Power Couple, "authors in the field of positive thought energy.". Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 20. (310) 281-8337.
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., Feb. 26, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 5 p.m.; Through March 11, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html...
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.
GROUNDLINGS SINGLE CRUISE All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 & 10 p.m.; thru April 23. (323) 934-9700.
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.; 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 JEW GROWS IN BROOKLYN Jake Ehrenreich's comedy musical memoir. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Dr., Bel-Air; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 5 p.m.; thru March 6. (866) 811-4111.
JUMP/CUT Neena Beber's study of friendship and mental illness. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 26, jumpcut2011.tix.com. (323) 595-4849.
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.
LA RAZON BLINDADA (THE ARMORED REASON) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play --one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). The actors remain seated throughout, navigating across the stage on wooden chairs with wheels. Within these loosely assumed personae, the pair frolic through a hallucinatory landscape, clowning their way through speculations about madness, sanity, heroism and human bonding, and conjuring an elaborate fantasy of regency over an island that brilliantly mocks the nature of power. In the end, the aim of the game is survival --not as rational beings, because reality would be too painful, but as madmen whose lunacy frees them from the shame of powerlessness. The performances are consummate and the staging, as eloquent as the text, features a videographed landscape over which their sunken shadows pass, and Faure's Elegie for Violoncello and Orchestra to underscore the pathos. (Deborah Klugman). 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (800) 838-3006.
GO LOVE LETTERS TO WOMEN Flowers irritating your sinuses? Fondants being stuffed down your throat? Frilly Hallmark sentiments causing excessive eye-rolling? Marketers work overtime in early February to sell romance while inadvertently stimulating the "ugh" reflex. So forgive us if the premise of this world premiere, created by German Michael Torres and written by Ryan T. Husk, gives us pause. Inspired by Torres' life growing up with five older sisters, the series of monologues examines men's relationships with all the women in their lives. The opening sequence, in which the five actors offer descriptive phrases such as "women are faith" and "women are queen," is as sickly-sweet as a box of cheap chocolates. Fortunately, though, director Hector Rodriguez has cast a group of men talented enough to overcome that initial saccharine taste by rendering the monologues that follow with real heart. Mario Martinez delivers his one-liners ("She was foreign-exchange-student hot") as casually as if they just came to him, and J. Todd Howell's realizations as a good ol' boy confronting his prejudices elicited tears in the audience. Michael Ruesga easily is the star of the show, and the night could use more of Jeff Blumberg's adorable dorkiness. Even Kevin Vavasseur, who's like a bull in an airplane bathroom, finds his stride in a piece about the Lakers. Across the board, the monologues are too long, but over the course of the evening, even the coldest, crankiest resistance to romantic sentimentality will have started to melt a little. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru March 6, Casa0101.org. (323) 263-7684.
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). Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (800) 595-4849.
MAGIC STRINGS 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.
MLLE. GOD Playwright Nicholas Kazan's uninspired spin on Frank Wedekind's "Lulu" plays comes as a cautionary reminder of just how difficult it is to capture libido on a stage. What some might think is the essence of the erotic mystique certainly will seem for others to be little more than an embarrassingly self-revealing mistake. That the latter proves to be the case in director Scott Paulin's pallid production is not for want of trying. Annika Marks' Lulu contains more provocative posturing per minute than one generally encounters at the average "gentlemen's club." Unfortunately for a play attempting to explore issues of feminine sexual power and the hegemony of patriarchal gender constructs, Marks' miscalculated stridency conjures all the eros of a cold shower. To be fair, even the great Louise Brooks --whose performance in Georg Pabst's classic 1929 screen adaptation Pandora's Box continues to reign as the definitive Lulu --would have been lost in the sophomoric self-parody of a text that calls for a gentleman admirer (Tasso Feldman, double-cast with Gary Patent) to involuntarily blurt out an ecstatic "Yes!" every time Lulu bends over. Keith Szarabajka emerges with his dignity fully intact in a fine turn as the Lulu-obsessed painter Melville (also played by Robert Trebor). Richard Hoover's versatile set and lighting designs and Jason Thompson's sci-fi-tinged video projections lend the proceedings a stylish gloss. Late in the play, a character refuses to describe Lulu's sexual appeal, adding that it is "a certain quality which I wouldn't want to ruin by naming it." Would that Kazan had taken his own advice. Performs with alternating casts. (Bill Raden). Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru March 27, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. (323) 644-1929.
MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 16, plays411.com/mother. (323) 960-5774.
GO MR. KOLPERT What to do when you're settled, successful and sociopathic? For bored couple Sarah (Lauren Olipra) and Ralf (Tommy French), the answer is, terrorize Sarah's tee-totaling co-worker Edith (Kimberly Dilts) and her meathead husband Bastian (J.T. Arbogast) at a dinner party for four. Sarah and Ralf claim that they've killed Mr. Kolpert from Accounts and locked him in the trunk. The enraged Bastian makes good on his claim to kill them all, including his missus, who may or may not be joking about having an affair with Mr. Kolpert. Everyone is lying --or "kidding" --in David Gieselmann's comedy of lethally bad manners, and it's cruel fun once the audience is clued in to its odd, bright artificiality. Between the blood and fake vomit are digressions into chaos theory, which hint that there's a method in Gieselmann's madness. What sticks is his caricature of yuppies as being so dulled by civility and chardonnay that the only wake-up is a sharp knife. Director Mike Monroe could scale back Bastian's out-of-the box rage, but otherwise the cast is terrific, with Arbogast's oily charm, Olipra's feline callowness and Dilts' nuanced comedic turn as the perfect wife with her own axe to grind. (Amy Nicholson). Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Wed., 8:30 p.m.; thru March 9. (323) 644-4946.
NO. SAINTS LANE The setting for Eric Czuleger's dark comedy is a remote cabin in Scagway, Alaska, where, amidst the battering of a winter storm, Mer (Meredith Schmidt) and her slow-witted daughter, Dizzy (Kirsten Kulken), are again on the run from Mer's violent spouse, Hunter (Adam Navarro), who has just completed his Special Forces duty. This time, Mer has decided to end the abuse permanently by asking her current lover, Jay (Joe Calarco), to kill her husband. Initially, things seem to go as planned, but the celebration is short-lived when the batterer hobbles in bruised and bloodied, with the intention of reclaiming his family. Up until then, the play had some legs, albeit wobbly ones, but most of Act 2 turns in to muddled attempt to explore the volatile dynamics of love, attraction and repulsion, and even the effects of torture on the human psyche --little of which is articulated or emerges from the incoherent structure. The contrived finale is just puzzling. Cast performances are barely adequate, with Calarco (who does fine job with the sound design), being the only exception. Steve Julian directs. (Lovell Estell III). Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 6, coeurage.org/tickets/buy. (323) 882-8043.
NUNSENSATIONS! Nuns go to Las Vegas in Dan Goggin's comedy. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 7 p.m.; Sun., March 13, 7 p.m.; thru March 13. (626) 695-8283.
GO 100 DAYS The title of Weiko Lin's two-character play is derived from an old Taiwanese Buddhist tradition, which dictates that when the parent of an unmarried child passes away, the child must find a spouse within 100 days in order for the spirit of the deceased to transition peacefully. But matrimony is the last thing on the mind of Will (Eric Martig), who revels in his debauched, hand-to-mouth existence as a traveling comedian on the college circuit, where there is a steady supply of booze and female company. But for Miki (Joy Howard) --Will's love of 15 years removed -- life is nothing but painful drudgery, made all the more so by old emotional wounds, an unhappy marriage, middle-class monotony and her fear of having children. When Will attends a funeral service for his mother, he encounters a family friend who sets in motion a chain of events that eventually brings Miki and Will together again, allowing another chapter of their relationship to play out. Notwithstanding a somewhat tedious Act 2 involving an overcooked night of drinking and reminiscing, there is much that is engaging. Lin's script bristles with energy and humor, and he invests these characters with a simple, captivating humanity. The cast delivers high-quality performances, under Brett Erickson's direction. (Lovell Estell III). Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., No. 105, L.A.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 20, LOFTensemble.com. (213) 680-0392.
PIPPIN DOMA Theatre Company's dark take on the Stephen Schwartz musical. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 13, plays411.com/pippin. (323) 960-5773.
PLAY DATES Sam Wolfson's offbeat love story. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 17. (323) 960-7784.
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.GO
PUZZLER 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 cinema verite 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., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (310) 281-8337.
GO ROOM SERVICE Twenty-two jackals --I mean, actors --have run up a $1,200 bill at a posh hotel in 1930s Manhattan, and their producer, Gordon (Derek Manson), is desperate to skip out on the tab. Fat chance with manager (Phillip William Brock) and corporate heavy (Charles Dennis) blocking their escape. Since Gordon, the director (Joe Liss), the playwright (Dustin Eastman) and the rabble are on the 19th floor, they can't jump. Better options are playing sick, suffering a hunger strike, faking suicide and dabbling in bank fraud. John Murray and Allen Boretz's madcap comedy ran for 14 months on Broadway in 1937, and if the quips and the wise guys (especially Daniel Escobar's cheery lug) smack of a Marx Brothers movie, that's because it was one in 1938. Except for Eastman's guileless writer, these starving artists aren't suffering for the sake of art; their play seems secondary to saving their own skins. When real talent, a Russian waiter who studied Chekhov (Elya Baskin, excellent), auditions into their hotel room, his breathtaking monologue goes ignored. This three-act contraption gets going in Act 2 after co-directors Bjorn Johnson and Ron Orbach ease the cast into the comedy's chirpy rhythm. It's a slender pleasure, despite the directors' argument that it makes us reflect on our current economic crisis. Better just to enjoy the physical comedy that makes full use of every corner of Victoria Proffit's suite set; the ensemble leaps over furniture and gobbles down smuggled food like wild, wise-cracking animals. (Amy Nicholson). Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 12, openfist.org. (323) 882-6912.
GO SHADOW ANTHROPOLOGY: A POST-9/11 COMEDY Ten years after 9/11, the plight of rural Afghans caught in the crossfire between U.S. forces and the Taliban remains dire. Playwright-director Rick Mitchell lays bare the cruel urgency of their circumstances in this unpolished but potentially compelling production. Utilizing music (composer Max Kinberg) and puppetry (shadow artist Maria Bodmann), and depicted with the broad strokes of Brechtian-style theatrics, it begins with the recruitment by a Blackwater-type firm of a post-grad in anthropology named Fe (Lymari Nadal). A left-leaning Puerto Rico native, Fe has the job of interviewing Afghans for the U.S.'s human terrain project. Touted as a way to win hearts and minds, the project is a devious attempt to root out insurgents through entrapment. Overseeing the program is a well-paid defense operative named Evan (David Lee Garver), an unprincipled superpatriot whose sprawling ego is pumped up by his coke-and-heroin habit and his steady intake of Viagra. A practiced slimeball, Evan nonetheless proves no match for the region's chief warlord, Gulab (Andrew Qamar Johnson), a brazen villain with no compunction about engineering the murder of a hapless farmer (Ray Haratian), whose 21-year-old daughter (Claudia Vazquez) he has procured in marriage for his septuagenarian uncle (Eduardo R. Terry). Despite roughness around the edges on opening night, the performances are on track, especially Garver's and Johnson's, whose scenes together zone in on the ubiquitous venality on both sides. Illustrating Afghan women's nightmares is another grotesquely funny segment in which Vazquez's martyred bride undertakes, for her family's survival, to fornicate with her moribund but still lecherous spouse. Part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. (Deborah Klugman). Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Through Feb. 25, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html...NEW REVIEW GO THE SONNETEER
Photo by Katie Pomerantz
Nick Salamone's play examines the ways in which homophobia, guilt, self-delusion and hypocrisy cause the gradual disintegration of the Cardamones, a first-generation Italian-American family. Louie Cordero (Paul Haitkin), his younger brother, Michael (Ray Oriel), and their friend Joey (Ed Martin) go off to serve in World War II. Michael and Joey, serving in France, secretly become lovers. After the war, Louie marries his sweetheart, Livvy (Sandra Purpuro), but he also discovers the relationship between Michael and Joey, and his virulent homophobia is aroused. Pressured by salty, bossy older sister Vita (Cynthia Gravinese), who wants to save him for middle-class respectability, Michael marries a sweetly naïve hospital nurse, Ella (Victoria Hoffman), whom he'd like to love, but doesn't. Meanwhile, Livvy, desolate over Louie's death, writes sonnets to relieve her pain. Director Jon Lawrence Rivera sensitively explores the rich characters and understated subtleties of Salamone's play, with fine assistance from his able and faithful cast. Haitkin, in particular, scores as both homophobic Louie and his scholarly pro-gay son. Davidson/Valentini Theatre, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., through March 13. (323) 860-7300, lagaycenter.org/boxoffice. (Neal Weaver)GO THE SUNSET LIMITED John Perrin Flynn's top-notch staging of Cormac McCarthy's 1996 two-character play shows the author is a gifted dramatist as well as a superb novelist. A life-and-death struggle emerges in the dingy apartment of an ex-con named Black (Tucker Smallwood), who has just rescued White (Ron Bottitta) from a suicide leap off a subway platform. That their names are racial signifiers is just one of the dynamics McCarthy uses to mine the ironies in this simple scenario. Black is poor, uneducated and a committed man of faith, an inner-city Good Samaritan whose redemption came in prison and who unwaveringly believes in the value of life and God's grace. White is a hyper-rationalist, a successful university professor and defiant atheist who is weighted down with crushing despair and hopelessness. It's a high-stakes intervention where both men state their cases with unbridled passion and eloquence engendering a back-and-forth shift of empathies, and one never gets the sense of an immutable moral center or of merely listening to lectures. McCarthy, who is noted for his sparse dialogue and powerful imagery, exhibits an uncanny ear for ghetto argot, but just as nimbly utilizes the idiom of the academic. When, at the end, White erupts and expresses a weltanschauung of the darkest hue, one is reminded of Nietzsche's remark about staring into the abyss. Complementing Flynn's fine direction are the equally superb performances. (Lovell Estell III). Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (323) 422-6361.
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.; Mon., 8 p.m.; thru March 7. (323) 852-9111.
VIOLATORS WILL BE BIOLATED Casey Smith's solo mime show. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; thru March 19, circlextheatre.org. (323) 644-1929.
THE VIOLET HOUR Richard Greenberg's tale of a publisher besieged by two authors. Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 13, plays411.com/violethour. (323) 960-1054.
WOMEN IN SHORTS World premiere themed evening of theater, starring Joanna Miles and Louise Davis. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 20, brownpapertickets.com/event/143986. (800) 838-3006.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ALMOST, MAINE John Cariani's love story set in a snowy, remote town in Maine. The Whole Theatre, 5918 Van Nuys Blvd. (behind the Young Actors Space), Van Nuys; Sat.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (818) 785-7979.
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.; thru March 25. (818) 202-4120.
GO CAMINO REAL Told that the rarely performed play was by one of the great 20th-century playwrights, you'd guess the author was Tom Stoppard before Tennessee Williams. The 40-character limbo-land puzzler mashes up Don Quixote (Lenny Von Dohlen), Casanova (Tim Cummings), Lord Byron (Michael Aurelio) and the Hunchback of Notre Dame's gypsy femme fatale Esmeralda (Kalean Ung) in the town of Camino Real (pronounced KA-mino REE-al, a la gringo, so as to distinguish it from the country of CaMIno ReAL just next door). Inside the gates, the hamlet is divided further still between the Haves, who sip brandy with Gutman (Brian Tichnell) at his sumptuous hotel, and the Have-Nots, who lay their heads at the fleabag Ritz Men Only, or worse. Between them, there are enough liars and whores that a chipper innocent like Kilroy (the fantastic Mike Goodrich), a former boxing champ with a heart as big as a baby, is humbled within 10 minutes of hitting town. But this isn't about his escape. It's about his destruction and whether he --and the rest of the captives --will be able to face their fate when the murderous cleaners (Frank Raducz Jr. and Murphy Martin) come to sweep them away. The only people not trying to leave town are the people too damaged to try, a motley crew of pawnbrokers, pickpockets and a taco salesman whom director Jessica Kubzansky keeps in motion, each slipping out in time to pop up in another role. Camino Real is most famous for bombing on Broadway in 1953 and temporarily tarnishing the careers of Williams and director Elia Kazan. (There's even a play about the flop, The Really Big Once, which opened last fall in New York.) Williams' episodic structure lacks momentum, particularly in the second act during a long scene between Kilroy and Esmeralda (who needs more heat). But the decades have given us a better perspective on the questions Williams, then at the anxious peak of his stage career, was asking himself: Can you still love when you're old and cynical? Can art survive amid crass capitalism? And is being a former talent a source of pride or shame? Kubzansky's ensemble is outstanding, even wringing a knowing chuckle from the faux-naif line, "Why does disappointment make people unkind?" With all technical contributions including Silvanne E.B. Park's costumes hitting high marks, Camino Real is a curiosity that you're not likely to see again -- let alone this well. (Amy Nicholson). Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 13, bostoncourt.com. (626) 683-6883.
THE CAPULETS AND THE MONTAGUES The star-crossed lovers get an astrological realignment in this comedy by Shakespeare's Spanish contemporary, Lope de Vega. Seeming to send up Romeo and Juliet, Lope's play is, in fact, not a skewering of the Bard's tragedy but a farcical rendering of the same source material, Matteo Bandello's novella Giulietta e Romeo. Dakin Matthews' thoughtful English translation centers squarely on the frivolity of lovesickness, the foolhardiness of relentless family loyalty and the potential for comedy amidst the murkiness of communication breakdown. For every fatal turn Shakespeare's text takes, Lope's version veers into the gleefully ridiculous: Juliet (Nicol Zanzarella-Giacalone) comes on to Romeo (Benny Wills) like a tigress in heat at the masquerade ball, Capulet (John Achorn) plans to marry his niece (Kellie Matteson) to ensure an heir when Juliet is pronounced dead, Romeo stumbles around like a frightened man-child in Juliet's dark tomb. Though there's promise of great fun in seeing this underperformed play in a careful translation that pays close attention to the lighthearted impact of rhyming verse, the production is in desperate need of directorial attention. In the hands of Anne McNaughton, the potential for out-and-out comedic outrage and unabashed farcical tomfoolery is lost. Instead, we get a dramatically lukewarm retelling of a well-known story, a tone-deaf production begging to be so much more than a famous tragedy with a jocular spin. The able lead actors suffer under the tonal ambiguities. As nurse Celia, Etta Devine carries many of the comic scenes with her excellent timing and sure-handed delivery. The biggest laughs come when Celia and servant Marin (Bruce Green) revel in low comedy, mocking the wooing process as the lead lovers wax poetic. Dean Cameron's costumes are flawless. (Amy Lyons). New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood; Sun., 2 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27, Andak.org. (866) 811-4111.
FIREHOUSE Unlike police officers, who are so often feared or mistrusted, firefighters almost always engage the appreciation and respect of the people they serve. Playwright Pedro Antonio Garcia's message-minded melodrama jump-starts around the community's perceived betrayal of that covenant, and the pressure brought to bear upon a firefighter named Perry (Kamar de los Reyes) to make a bogus choice between loyalty to his unit and loyalty to his Puerto Rican ethnic group. A 20-year department vet, Perry is on the cusp of retirement when a crisis erupts at the South Bronx firehouse after a colleague named Boyle (Gerald Downey) rescues another firefighter from a burning building but leaves behind a 12-year-old child. Boyle steadfastly maintains he didn't see the girl for the smoke, but his credibility is open to question --in no small part because of his personal history as a former cop who was tried and acquitted for shooting an unarmed civilian. Whereas the community, represented here by Perry's fiancee, Aida (Jossara Jinaro), a criminal defense attorney, is up in arms, most of Boyle's buddies give him the benefit of the doubt and pressure Perry to do the same. Garcia gleaned aspects of his story from real-life headlines in this effort to offer up an intrepid examination of how our native prejudices cloud our judgment. Too often, however, the characters seem mere profanity-riddled mouthpieces for one side or another's point of view, a problem exacerbated by Bryan Rasmussen's overheated direction. Most discrepant is Jinaro's counselor-at-law, unconvincing as a perspicacious professional not only by virtue of her mini-skirted and otherwise revealing attire but in her strident insistence that Perry take her side for personal reasons rather than principled ones. (Deborah Klugman). Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Fri., 8 p.m.; thru April 29, theatermania.com. (323) 822-7898.
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.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Man-eating-plant musical, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Center Stage Theatre, 8463 Sierra Ave., Fontana; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 6. (909) 429-7469.
THE MAIDEN'S PRAYER Nicky Silver's look at the randomness of love. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (800) 681-5150.
MELODRAMA Adam Neubauer's absurd comedy about a man's quest to find his father's murderer. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru March 12. (818) 202-4120.
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.
NERVE Adam Szymkowicz's dark comedy set on a couple's first date. Chance Theatre, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (714) 777-3033.
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 March 12. (323) 960-7712.
OEDIPUS THE TYRANT The Porters of Hellsgate present a new translation of Sophocles' classic, translated by Jamey Hecht. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 13, brownpapertickets.com/event/149704. (818) 325-2055.
NEW REVIEW THE REVENANTS Not only do the protagonists in this zombie play break the age-old cautionary rule (in zombie-prone regions) of avoiding the basement at all costs, but they manage to hunker down below ground with two members of the rapidly multiplying undead population. Thus, a long and tediously unfolding chain of events is set in motion by characters entirely lacking sound decision-making skills. All of this stupidity would be fine were it a remotely intelligent commentary on human folly, but nothing in Scott T. Barsotti's text resembles satire or keen irony. Instead, we witness the agonizingly uninteresting plight of Gary (Carl Bradley Anderson) and Karen (Anne Westcott), a pair of old friends whose respective spouses, Molly (Lara Fisher) and Joseph (Rafael Zubizarreta Jr.), have turned zombie. While the uninfected couple make feeble attempts to devise a plan of action, they chain Molly and Joseph to the wall. For the play's duration, Molly and Joseph halfheartedly strain against their bindings while Gary and Karen talk about old times, argue over the extent to which their spouses are lost and question their marriages. There isn't a nail-biting moment in sight here; the constant presence of the zombies creates a tolerance factor that renders them about as threatening as a pair of uncouth houseguests unaware of the late hour. Because Gary and Karen are entirely unremarkable characters, the stakes are further purged. If the goal is to make us root for the zombies (think George Romero's smirk at rabid consumerism in the shopping-mall setting of Dawn of the Dead), then the failure is one of narrative scope: Focusing on four characters in a static setting is no way to build an audience of gleeful zombie sympathizers. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 19. thevisceralcompany.com. (Amy Lyons)
REWIND SkyPilot Theatre Company's late-night series of one-acts, on everything from "how to get fired from a job" to "how to survive a zombie attack.". Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 11 p.m.; thru March 12, skypilottheatre.com. (800) 838-3006.
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.; Fri., 11 p.m.; thru April 22. (818) 202-4120.
STEALING BUFFALO Profanity, perversion and a pig iron do not a Mamet play make. While the "master" is known for his liberal use of the f-word, the c-word and other unmentionables, his machine-gun dialogue generally contains an undercurrent of danger, social commentary and revelation of character. Many Mamet imitators fail to grasp this subtext, and, like Vern Urich and Craig Ricci Shaynak, create pieces that superficially resemble Mamet's patterns but lack his depth. In this take on American Buffalo, Jed (Urich) enters like Teach from the original, uttering a string of f-bombs followed by the word Mamet instead of Ruthie. He has again failed to get the rights to put on his favorite play in Los Angeles. Jed's rotund friend Stu (Shaynak), also an actor, is having troubles of his own but with women. After a lengthy lecture by Jed on "bangin' broads" (a phrase that becomes noisome from repetition), the two concoct a scheme to "steal" Mamet's work. A strange attempt to fuse Mamet-speak and Swingers, this unending string of one-liners quickly ventures into tedium, with its numerous tangents, such as a listing of all the celebrities whose sign is Sagittarius, replacing an actual story. The pizza box-laden set (presumably an homage to Mamet's junk shop) lacks any sense of design, and the literal projections only elongate the tangential riffs on pop culture, which grind the action to a halt. While the inspiration for the piece is Urich's own experience, the result lacks the stakes and tension to turn documentary into drama. (Mayank Keshaviah). Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru March 6, thegrouprep.com. (818) 700-4878.
TOPDOG/UNDERDOG Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize winner about two African-American brothers. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 26. (866) 811-4111.
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL Horton Foote's nostalgia story. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 6. (818) 700-4878.
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;
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.
WOUNDED Amy Tofte's historical narrative inspired by the Wounded Knee massacre. CalArts, Walt Disney Modular Theater (MOD), 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia; Through Feb. 26, 8 p.m., http://calarts.edu/calendar...
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
GO ADDING MACHINE: A 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. (Steven Leigh Morris). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 27, 7 p.m.; thru March 13. (310) 477-2055.
AFTERMATH Elliot Shoenman's comedic drama studies a widow named Julie (Annie Potts), and her almost adult children, still struggling to come to terms with her husband's suicide three years previously. More like an emotionally raw drama with a sprinkling of good laughs, Shoenman's play unfolds like a typical 1950s kitchen sink drama, the strip-mining kind where secrets and recriminations are laid bare and the obligatory catharsis ensues. This notion is visually supported by co-producer and set designer Gary Guidinger's realistic kitchen-and teenager-bedroom set. What isn't necessary is the slide show across the back flats repeatedly displaying the pathetically inadequate suicide note Julie was left with, and which also illustrates her children's passage to adulthood. Everyone in the capable cast gets at least one monologue, from the hostile son, Eric (Daniel Taylor), to the mild-tempered daughter, Natalie (Meredith Bishop), to their father's former best friend and Mom's possible new boyfriend, Chuck (Michael Mantell). With her pixie haircut and thick N.Y. accent, Potts wavers from droll to distraught, only sometimes stridently overcompensating for first-night nerves and an ensemble performance that occasionally seemed to lose its rhythm. At its best, the incisive dialogue volleys back and forth like an enthralling game of tennis. Mark L. Taylor directs this slice of dysfunction well. (Pauline Adamek). Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 13. (310) 477-2055.
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.; thru Feb. 26. (310) 397-3244.
DECIDER CRE Outreach presents a Changing Perceptions/Theatre by the Blind production by Colin Simson, performed by the only entirely blind theater troupe in America. Magicopolis, 1418 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Thurs., 8 p.m.; thru March 10, creoutreach.org/decider. (310) 902-8220.
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.
Free Are special talents a burden or a blessing? Set in a fantastical backwoods America, Barbara Lindsay's lightweight comedy concerns the woes of an itinerant performer named Free (Michael Earl Reid), whose uncanny ability to levitate and then float in the air does little to make him happy. Tired of being gawked at, he declares his intention to chuck the carny life and get a job making beds at a seedy California motel. The an-nouncement dismays his manager and longtime pal, Stoney (Greg Albanese) -- not surprisingly, since Stoney's income depends on his friend's mind-bending forte. Ultimately rescued by several comedic performances, the play is slow getting started, in part because Free's bellyaching persona is so simplistically crafted at the top, and also because it's never clear what has triggered his crisis. Directed by Wendy Worthington, the production eventually comes alive around Dagney Kerr's sidesplitting portrayal of Althea, an obsessive fan who perceives the wussy Free as the source of her own salvation. Donaco Smyth is likewise extremely funny as Althea's hulking husband with the disposition of a lamb. Also notewor-thy are McPherson as the hotel housekeeper who inspires Free's decision to change his life, and Albanese as a wannabe slick operator who turns out to really have a heart. (Deborah Klugman). [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (323) 461-3673.
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 March 27. (310) 399-3666.NEW REVIEW GO THE HYACINTH MACAW An unabridged dictionary can be a dangerous thing, particularly when it's wielded with the playfully pleonastic dexterity of a stage poet like Mac Wellman. Like a deranged Dr. Seuss for adults, Wellman marries a love of wordplay with a mischievously subversive wit that entertains even as it teases out the unspeakable fears festering at the fringes of American complacency. In director Jim Martin's handsomely mounted production of Wellman's 1994 fractured fairy tale, the playwright zeros in on our gullible faith in the empty, "pneumatic" bromides and hackneyed romantic tropes that form the fragile mythologies from which we make sense of a larger, unknowable reality. In the case of the Moredent family of Bug River, all of their assumptions about their very identities are upended with the arrival of Mister William Hard (Jerry Prell), "a doctor of divinity, equidistance and gradualist" from "the land of evening," who announces that they are all orphans. It seems the father, Ray (Craig Anton) is an "inauthentic duplicate" of Hard and the two must trade places to redress the error. Blithely accepting the news, Ray packs his bag and departs, freeing wife Dora (Lysa Fox) to run off with an itinerant vagabond (Simon Brooke), while daughter Susannah (Anna Steers) remains behind to help Hard bury the eerily glowing remains of the dying moon. While Martin's staging underscores the text's whimsical non-sense at the expense of its more mordant phenomenological musings, Cristina Bejarano's imaginative, angular set and Nick Davidson's hauntingly evocative lights eloquently support Wellman's off-kilter cosmos. Royal Theater aboard the Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., through March 12. (562) 985-5526, calrep.org. A California Repertory production. (Bill Raden)
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.
KISS ME, KATE The Relevant Stage presents Cole Porter's play-within-a-play musical romcom. Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. Sixth St., San Pedro; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 & 7 p.m.; thru Feb. 27. (800) 838-3006.
NEW REVIEW GO LOCKED AND LOADED
Ever hear the joke about the two guys with terminal brain tumors who decide to beat death to the punch? A Jew and a WASP dress up in tuxes, rent a presidential suite stocked with their favorite booze and call some hookers to help them go orgasmic into that good night. OK, so the subject matter and setup of, and even the quietly heartbreaking backstories in, actor-playwright Todd Susman's play are a little derivative -- Leaving Las Vegas and Marsha Norman's play 'Night, Mother spring to mind -- but some very clever writing and smart performances make this West Coast premiere much funnier and more mystical than the approach its predecessors took. Particularly interesting is Susman's deliberate trafficking in stereotypes. Old-monied Dickie Rice (Andrew Parks) is haughty as he hurls three strikes in quick succession at an African-American hooker, sniffing, "Do you know who I am?" and referring to her "Aunt Jemima" style of speaking. Sad-clown sitcom writer Irwin Schimmel (Paul Linke) turns his poison pen on himself and his Jewish heritage, and Catorce Martinez's (Terasa Sciortino) inability to understand English subtleties is the source of many jokes. But in electing Princess Lay-Ya (a very sharp Sandra Thigpen) queen pin, Susman gives the underdog the upper hand, which Lay-Ya uses to force the superficialities aside to reveal the very real, raw pain coursing beneath. After such deep diving, the resurface at play's end is a little easy; nevertheless, the whole shebang is a much more entertaining evening than the premise portends. Chris DeCarlo directs. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3:30 p.m., through April 16. (310) 394-9779. (Rebecca Haithcoat)A NIGHT AT THE OSCARS Peter Quilter's comedy about a thespian couple preparing to sing at the Academy Awards. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; thru March 20, brownpapertickets.com. (310) 589-1998.
GO PARADISE PARK A profoundly despondent fellow (Kenneth Rudnicki) wanders into an amusement park for distraction from his agony. Inside, he slips into a fantasia of scenes --including his own romance with a young woman (Reha Zemani) from the Midwest, igniting a bundle of neuroses that keeps them estranged; a ventriloquist/philosopher (Ann Stocking) and his bifurcated dummy (David E. Frank); a tourist couple (Bo Roberts and Cynthia Mance) at the end of the tether that's barely holding their marriage together; their irate young daughter (KC Wright) who yearns, in vain, for an effete Cuban (Tim Orona); a psychotic pizza-delivery boy (Jeff Atik); a wandering violinist (Lena Kouyoumdjian); a circus clown (Troy Dunn); and, in a directorial flourish, a guy in a chicken costume. Charles Mee's comedy is like a sonnet with a couple of repeated motifs: distraction, love and the general feeling of being cast adrift in cultural waters that are partly enchanting, partly evaporating, and partly polluted by the refuse of our ancestors, of our families, of our determination to follow impulses we barely comprehend, and to wind up unutterably lost. He's one of this company's favorite scribes, and mine, for the way in which, with the literary touch of a feather, he conjures primal truths of what keeps us at odds with ourselves and with each other, keeps us yearning for the unattainable. And though there's obviously psychology at work, the driving energies of the language and of the drama are subconscious, cultural and historical currents. Production designer Charles Duncombe anchors his platform set with a wading pool stage center, in which sits an alligator, and he decorates it above with strings of festival lights. Josephine Poinsot's costumes are thoroughly whimsical with primary colors and a feel for an America of the late 1950s -- with the possible exception of the married couple's matching shorts and T-shirts that read, "Kiss my ass, I'm on vacation." Director Frederique Michel stages the poetical riffs of text in her typically arch style, and it serves the play almost perfectly, except for the pizza-delivery scene, where the choreography distracts from the psychosis that lies at the core. Even so, I found the evening to be indescribably affecting, tapping emotions that lurk beneath the machinery of reason. This is the last production to be staged at this back-alley venue in Santa Monica, where the company has been putting on plays for 15 years. The ventriloquist's lines couldn't have been more ironic and true: "Then, because the theater is the art form that deals above all others in human relationships, then theater is the art, par excellence, in which we discover what it is to be human and what is possible for humans to be ... that theater, properly conceived, is not an escape either but a flight to reality, a rehearsal for life itself, a rehearsal of these human relationships of which the most essential, the relationship that defines most vividly who we are and that makes our lives possible, is love." (Steven Leigh Morris). Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., C1, Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 13, citygargage.org. (310) 319-9939.
STANLEY ANN: THE UNLIKELY STORY OF BARACK OBAMA'S MOTHER Workshop production of Ann Noble's one-woman play, presented by Missyng Pictures, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Theater Ensemble and Powerhouse Theatre Company. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 6, latensemble.com. (310) 396-3680.
NEW REVIEW TUCUMCARI
Riley Steiner's bittersweet country tale transports us to a 1930s motor-court homestead along a remote, dusty New Mexico stretch of Route 66. For young bride Lillian (Ciera Parrack), marriage means embarking upon a new life and exploring the vast world beyond her Albuquerque farm. But on her honeymoon she is dismayed to learn that her new husband, Lyle (Logan Fahey), has a different future all worked out for them -- running the motel he won in a card game. Lil makes the most of her lot and all is going well until a handsome traveler passes through their tiny town of Tucumcari. Meaningful looks exchanged between Lil and Cade (Robert W. Evans) suggest a heated past. When Cade stays on to help Lyle build a porch, Lil finds her affections are divided. Pretty as a picture, Parrack is excellent as the stubborn and feisty heroine, conveying a deep and conflicted longing for the life she always dreamed of having. As quiet and slow as a country mile, Steiner leaves plenty of space between the spoken words, and director Doug Traer preserves the languid rural pace of this sweet and simple life. While it's enjoyable to watch the porch taking shape, the lean story merely plods along. Upstage, behind a scrim, a trio of country singers (Aric Leavitt, Rachel Kiser and Pat Whiteman Astor) yodel and harmonize exquisitely to the strains of banjo, guitar and fiddle, singing cowboy and coyote tunes. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills (on the Beverly Hills High School campus); Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through Feb. 27. (310) 364-0535. (Pauline Adamek)