Stage Raw: Will That Be the Week That Was?
NEW THEATER REVIEWS
Stage FEATURE on Oedipus the Tyrant and King Lear
L.A. WEEKLY THEATER AWARDS NOMINEES
WILL THAT BE THE WEEK THAT WAS?
The Theatre Communication Group's 50th anniversary conference, bringing theater-makers from around the country to Los Angeles, also for networking, workshops and symposiums (the first time that prestigious conference has been held here); then there's the first annual Radar Festival L.A. -- a West Coast off-shoot of New York's Under the Radar Festival -- administered through the Public Theatre (Mark Russell, one of that festival's producers, is on the Los Angeles steering committee with Center Theatre Group's Diane Rodriguez and REDCAT's Mark Murphy); the third annual Asian American Theatre Festival; the NEA/USC Institute for Theatre and Musical Theatre -- a bootcamp for mid-career arts writers from around the country; and, finally, the second annual Hollywood Fringe Festival Not to mention the Los Angeles Film Festival. All in one week!
Are we acquiring greatness or having greatness thrust upon us? Is this week an "occasion"? If so, is there something we should be doing to rise to it? Shall we try to persuade all these visitors that we really are a theater town, and then take bets to see how long it takes their eyes to glaze over? The national theater visitors will come, in unprecedented numbers. We'll talk and see performances and workshops and discussions on where our theater is headed -- nationally. There will be discussions about money and new models and community and purpose. Then the visitors will go. What will they take away from all this, and what will we?
DAVID SEFTON AUSTRALIA-BOUND
Impresario and L.A. Weekly Queen of the Angels David Sefton, who ran UCLA Live's International Theatre Festival with an eclectic and distinguished array of companies and performers (until the UCLA administration foolishly dropped theater from its programming last year, thereby yielding the L.A.'s primary international theater terrain to REDCAT and CalArts), has accepted a position as artistic director of the Adelaide Festival for the years 2013-2015.
Wrote Sefton: "LA has been fun - but time for a move - so why not a move to a country without economic problems where the government properly funds its arts festivals?"
Sefton assumes the role in May, but won't move to Australia until the autumn.
For the latest COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS, press the More tab directly below.
Our critics are Pauline Adamek, Paul Birchall, Lovell Estell III, Rebecca Haithcoat, Mayank Keshaviah, Deborah Klugman, Amy Lyons, Steven Leigh Morris, Amy Nicholson, Tom Provenzano, Bill Raden, and Neal Weaver. These listings were compiled by Derek Thomas
Productions are sequenced alphabetically in the following cagtegories: Opening This Week, Larger Theaters regionwide, Smaller Theaters in Hollywood, Smaller Theaters in the valleys , Smaller Theaters on the Westside and in beach towns. You can also search for any play by title, using your computer's search engine.
OPENING THIS WEEK
AGAINST OBLIVION Three one-acts by Steven Connell, backed by a soundtrack of hip-hop, classical and rock. Fri., March 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 5, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 2 p.m. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555.
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. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 5, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through March 5, $25-$90. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (213) 365-3500.
BRENDAN O'LENIHAN LEAVES THREE DAUGHTERS Sophisticated Rogue Media presents William Norrett's story of three Irish-American sisters at their father's wake. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 27, (818) 688-1219. Underground Annex Theater, 1308 N. Wilton Place, L.A..
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS William Shakespeare's comedy, re-staged as a Vaudeville-era play-within-a-play. Sat., March 5, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 2 p.m.; Wed., March 23, 8 p.m.; Thu., March 24, 8 p.m.; Thu., April 14, 8 p.m.; Fri., April 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 23, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., April 24, 2 p.m.; Sun., May 1, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thu., May 5, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 6, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 14, 2 & 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org.
I GET KNOCKED DOWN . . . Evan McNamara's solo study of the meaning of love. Starting March 5, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 10, igetknockeddown.eventbrite.com. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 988-1175.
JUST IMAGINE Tim Piper's John Lennon impersonation, including performances of Beatles hits and Lennon's solo work. Starting March 5, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24, (323) 960-4442. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., www.thehayworth.com.
RE-ANIMATOR The Musical: Stuart Gordon directs this musical stage version of his 1985 horror film, based on the H.P. Lovecraft story. Starting March 5, Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 27. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 666-4268.
SHADOW OF THE RAVEN Duffy Hudson is Edgar Allan Poe. Starting March 6, Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 3. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
SPAMALOT Musical-theater take on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Fri., March 4, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 5, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 2 p.m. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Dr., Cerritos, (562) 467-8818, cerritoscenter.com.
THE UGLY DUCKLING Interactive kids' musical by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Adryan Russ. Starting March 5, Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 9, (818) 761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., theatrewest.org.
THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES Eve Ensler's monologues on sex, love, rape, menstruation, masturbation, birth and orgasm, benefiting City of Joy and the Los Angeles branch of Break the Cycle. Sat., March 5, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 19, 8 p.m. Lyric-Hyperion Theater Cafe, 2106 Hyperion Ave., L.A., (323) 906-8904.
THE WOODPECKER Mutineer Theatre Company presents Samuel Brett Williams' trailer-park drama. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 3, (323) 871-5826, mutineertheatre.com. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A., studio-stage.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
NEW REVIEW BOOMERMANIA Debbie Kasper and Pat Sierchio's lively musical revue about baby boomers is much like the boomer culture itself -- fluffy and pleasant, but also somewhat sad. The show purports to be a lighthearted gambol down pop-culture memory lane, from the 1950s through the '90s, with the road of boomer excess ultimately leading to a palace of wisdom furnished with Sugar Pops, Dr. Spock, Saturday Night Fever and the Summer of Love. The decades roll by, depicted in a series of quirky skits and punctuated by renditions of rock songs whose lyrics parody the absurdities of eras past. Act 1 is fluff itself: In "Sugar Pops, Captain Crunch," a group of 1950s teens croon their affection for newly invented sugar cereals to the tune of "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch." Later, a dazed married couple warble "Talking 'Bout My Television," a song depicting near-hypnotized enchantment with their brand-new TV (sung to the tune of "The Beat Goes On"). However, when Act 2 moves into the later decades, Kasper and Sierchio's satire takes on a more melancholy tone, particularly during a sequence at a 10-year high school reunion, in which a few adult boomers come to grips with boomer shock: They're not as special as they thought they were. The show's cast consists of strikingly youthful performers who appear too young even for their first legal cocktail, let alone speedballs at Studio 54. Yet, thanks to Mary Ekler's tightly focused musical direction, their powerful voices evoke far richer emotions than the material they're often asked to sing. While many of the musical skits are crisply performed, the narrative material often falls flat, with frequent allusions to other boomer-dated shows like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hair only pointing out those musicals' far more inventive scores. El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., through March 27. (866) 811-4111. (Paul Birchall)
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). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 6. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com
NEW REVIEW THE CATHOLIC GIRL'S GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR VIRGINITY Photo by Chelsea Sutton
In writer-performer Annie Hendy's comedy, a bubbly plaid-skirted gal
named Lizzy (Hendy), wrestling with her staid Midwestern upbringing,
impulsively decides she needs to have sex at least once in her life
before she hits the quarter-century mark. But finding a guy who doesn't
entirely repel her, and who is willing to do the deed, proves tougher
than she imagined. What follows is a lighthearted look at the perilous
dating scene via Lizzy's sojourn through a parade of weirdos, deadbeats
and creeps. With its occasional direct-to-audience confessions, Hendy's
play feels like a solo show that has been revamped as a two-hander.
(Cyrus Alexander co-stars as all the men.) By opening up her material in
this way, Hendy permits a broader examination of a single girl's
dilemma with dating and self-confidence than in a one-woman show. It
also allows Alexander to show his chameleonic talents, and to outshine
Hendy with a virtuoso exercise, including lightning-quick costume
changes. While fairly droll, Hendy's comedy doesn't offer much that is
revelatory about a young Catholic woman's guilt, sexual repression,
conscience-wrestling and ultimate sexual liberation. But it does provide
some funny, touching and diverting scenes. Gregg W. Brevoort directs.
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 4
p.m., through March 6. (818) 955-8101. (Pauline Adamek)
4 CLOWNS Alive Theatre presents four clown archetypes: the sad clown, the mischievous clown, the angry clown and the nervous clown. Conceived and directed by Jeremy Aluma. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 19. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, www.lbph.com.NEW REVIEW GO IN MOTHER WORDS Photo courtesy of the Geffen Playhouse
Simple staging and spirited acting grace this series of vignettes about motherhood. Conceived by Susan Rose and Joan Stein, the string of separate playlets by more than a dozen writers, including Beth Henley and Theresa Rebeck, gains unity in the hands of director Lisa Peterson, who arranges the material into thematic blocks. (Jan Hartley's projection design and Emily Hubley's animation design effectively move the story forward during scene transitions.) Bookended by stories about new moms and seasoned matriarchs, the smart material covers a pleasing variety of parenting terrain, from a mother parting with her war-bound son in Jessica Goldberg's "Stars and Stripes" to a male couple searching for a surrogate in Marco Pennette's "If We're Using a Surrogate." Though the four actors -- Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Jane Kaczmarek, James Lecesne and Amy Pietz -- perch on chairs in front of podiums much of the time, their collective connection with the material renders the staged-reading format a barely noticeable factor. Comedy underlines much of the show, but David Cale's "Elizabeth," a glimpse into the early stages of dementia, and Claire LaZebnik's "Michael's Date," which lays out a mother's dashed hopes for her autistic son, tug hard at the heart. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 & 7 p.m., through May 1. (310) 208-5454. (Amy Lyons)
MASTER HAROLD . . . AND THE BOYS Athol Fugard's drama about an adolescent white South African conflicted over racism. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 6. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, (805) 667-2900.
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). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 6. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, (818) 558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
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 Moisés 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). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through March 6. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 12. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, www.groundlings.com.
THE BERLIN DIG 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. (Lovell Estell III). brownpapertickets.com/event/141320 Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 6, (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/141320. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A..
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.). ElephantTheatreCompany.com Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 18, (877) 369-9112, ElephantTheatreCompany.com. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., www.elephantstages.com.
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). plays411.com/beverlyhills Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 6, (323) 960-4418, plays411.com/beverlyhills. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., www.myspace.com/loungetheatre.
NEW REVIEW GO CABARET IDOL Photo by John Carmona
"There's nothing better to watch than a performer who loves to perform, except two good-looking people having sex," says host Scot Young. And in week four of season two of this live competition, Young and the packed crowd of fans, friends and family watched 14 performers anxiously take the stage and sing a number for the judges. At the end of the evening there were 12 survivors, another cull in the quest for the grand prize: new head shots, a management contract and a two-night solo show. The performance's theme was, perversely, "No Show Tunes," which had the contestants in paroxysms. Said one without a hint of sarcasm, "There really aren't that many songs that aren't show tunes!" But try they did, belting out Broadway-esque versions of Journey and Whitesnake and Cyndi Lauper before a scoring panel that didn't let them off the hook. "I want you to do a damn country song," grumbled a judge in mock exasperation. There were some good voices -- and a few great ones -- but the audience was there to tap their toes, vote for their favorites and maybe even grab some dinner or a stiff drink if they could flag down one of the waiters zipping around in the standing-room-only dark. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., Hlywd.; Sun., 7 p.m., through April 24. (323) 466-9917 (Amy Nicholson)
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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 3, (800) 595-4849, CaughtThePlay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..
COLOGNE: OR THE WAYS EVIL ENTERS THE WORLD In this solo drama, writer-director Tony Abatemarco eloquently describes growing up gay in the 1960s in a part of rural Long Island that "looked exactly like Iowa." If the piece is not, strictly speaking, autobiographical, it's clearly highly personal. In the world of horny teen boys who haven't yet mastered the art of dealing with girls, blatant homoeroticism and rabid homophobia exist side by side (one of the boys performs a spectacular strip-tease to an enthusiastic audience). The protagonist, Harry (Harry Hart-Browne), is a gay boy who's fascinated with Robert, a truculent local hero who's already a man among boys. He sets out to seduce Robert, and to some extent succeeds. Later, when Harry is fearful of being outed, he outs Robert instead, setting him up for a severe beating by local bullies. He retains a life-long fascination with Robert, even after the Stonewall riots provide a measure of personal liberation. Oddly, the narrative is presented in the third person, which has a slightly distancing effect, perhaps necessary to keep the graphic sexual descriptions from being too personal. Hart-Browne delineates his characters sharply and with enormous conviction. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through March 18, (702) 582-8587, katselastheatre.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A..
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). ensemblestudiotheatrela.org Thursdays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through March 12, (323) 644-1929, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A..
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 soigné Mrs. Mister, Tiffany C. Adams, Jack Laufer, David Trice, Will Barker, Lowe Taylor, Matt Wolpe and several others. (Neal Weaver). TheBlank.com Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 20, (323) 661-9827, TheBlank.com. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..
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 Koltès' 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). Through March 4, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A., www.sonofsemele.org.
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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 10, plays411.com/daddy. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-4249.
DOUG LOVES MOVIES Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m., Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702.
FACEBOOK The weekly show formerly known as MySpace. Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702.
NEW REVIEW GO THE FIX-UP SHOW
Photo courtesy of Acme Comedy Theatre
Although it's ostensibly a live-onstage dating game show, creator/host J. Keith van Straaten's comedy hybrid owes less of a debt to its venerable matchmaking forebears (The Dating Game, The Love Connection) than it does to the immortal You Bet Your Life. Like that granddaddy of mock TV quiz programs, in which real-life contestants merely served as comic fodder for the ad lib genius of Groucho Marx, The Fix-Up Show is built around the mercurial wit and barbed tongue of the dryly impish Van Straaten. Following introductory repartee between the host and his tongue-in-cheek announcer, Patti Goettlicher, a hapless bachelorette is interviewed and then ensconced backstage. Two of her best friends then join a celebrity guest questioner (this week it was legendary Hitchcock heroine Tippi Hedren) to grill and then vote on three consecutive bachelor prospects during two elimination rounds. The survivor wins the girl and dinner for two next door at Amalfi on a "date" whose video recap provides the prologue for next week's show. In this instance, the friends and movie star rejected a circus owner and a JPL spacecraft engineer in favor of a TV-graphics designer from Fairbanks, Alaska. And while the amateurs on the panel prove to be the format's Achilles heel, with their extemporaneous questions hamstringing as much as helping the comedy, it is a tribute to Van Straaten's considerable comic chops that the show reaps a laugh quotient of which even Groucho would be proud. ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N. LaBrea Ave., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m., through March 30. (646) 450-4349, thefixupshow.com. (Bill Raden)
FREE $$$ Jonas Oppenheim's faux self-improvement workshop, hosted by Robin and Randy Petraeus, Power Couple, "authors in the field of positive thought energy." Sundays, 7 p.m.; Thu., March 24, 8 p.m.; Thu., March 31, 8 p.m. Continues through April 3. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
FULL BLOWN Andrew Ableson and Jean Spinosa's stowaway tale. Part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html Through March 11, 8 p.m., sonofsemele.org/shows/ccf2011.html. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A., www.sonofsemele.org.
THE GOLDEN GAYS John Patrick Trapper's homotastic comedy inspired by The Golden Girls. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 10, thegoldengays.com. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A..
GROUNDLINGS SINGLES CRUISE All-new sketch and improv, directed by Mikey Day. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through April 23. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, www.groundlings.com.NEW REVIEW A HOUSE NOT MEANT TO STAND Photo by Ed Krieger
Empty butterscotch wrappers scattered on a cheap coffee table, an afghan in shades of brown clutching a grubby couch, an old Christmas-themed popcorn tin catching one of the ceiling's countless leaks -- Misty Carlisle's prop design is so on-target, if she isn't from the South, she must have spent summers there. Yet her efforts, and Jeff McLaughlin's picture-perfect set, can't save the soul of this production of Tennessee Williams' tragicomedy. The premise is dyed-in-the-wool Williams: Hard-driving father Cornelius (Alan Blumenfeld) and his regressed-from-depression wife, Bella (Sandy Martin), arrive home from burying their gay son in Memphis. ("You encouraged him to design clothes [and] try 'em on," Cornelius berates his wife.) Their youngest, kinda sneaky, kinda sweet son (Daniel Billet) is home (after losing another job) with a similarly out-of-work girlfriend (Virginia Newcomb). The play, Williams' last, isn't his best; soliloquies directed at the audience weaken the action and disrupt the script's flow. But in not clearly revealing the kind of seminal Williams-esque conflict between a deep well of despair and the near-instinctual impulse to hide anything unpleasant, director Simon Levy has ignored the desperate sadness here, turning the play into a carnival of caricatures. Fortunately, Lisa Richards, a cougar before the term even existed, soft-pedals her approach as a nosy neighbor, and her scene near the end with Bella is the first in the production that intrigues. The real shame, in fact, is that Martin's performance as the mentally clouded yet still feisty Bella is stranded in this production. Tennessee Williams always saved his best for his women, and Martin more than does him justice. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., through April 17. (323) 663-1525. (Rebecca Haithcoat)
JUMP/CUT Neena Beber's study of friendship and mental illness. jumpcut2011.tix.com Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 26, jumpcut2011.tix.com. Arena Stage at Theater of Arts (formerly the Egyptian Arena Theater), 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., L.A., (323) 595-4849.
KEEP IT CLEAN COMEDY Hosted by JC Coccoli. Mondays, 10:30 p.m., Free. 1739 Public House, 1739 N. Vermont Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1739.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. See Theater feature
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). Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 26. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A., (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.org.
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). Casa0101.org Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March 6, Casa0101.org. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., L.A., (323) 263-7684, www.casa0101.org.NEW REVIEW LOVE SUCKS
Photo by Michael Lamont
In traditional French farce, though everybody determinedly pursues sex, their efforts are constantly thwarted and conventional morality triumphs by default. Here, successfully inverting that formula, writer-director Rob Mersola sets his play in New York's Lower East Side, and populates it with a randy bunch of characters who look for love in all the wrong places, and eagerly indulge in sex wherever it lurks, in beds, bars, backseats or bathroom stalls. Pretty Josie (Sadie Alexandru) is obsessed with unreliable, opportunistic but well-endowed Harlan (Michael Alperin). Her gay roommate Calvin (Joshua Bitton) goes in for frequent anonymous sex; stockbroker Charlie (Daniel Ponickly) gives BJs in public restrooms, when he isn't making wedding plans with his fiancée (Jeni Verdon); and lecherous faux-gypsy seducer Giuseppi (Anil Kumar) ruthlessly pursues every woman who crosses his path. In the course of 48 hours, each of them has a fling with (at least) two of the others, till they all come together for a hilarious series of revelations and confrontations. Mersola hones his amiably grungy plot into a surprisingly elegant roundelay, and stages it with verve. All five actors wield solid comic skills, acquitting themselves with style on Burris Jakes' handsome, flexible unit set. Coast Playhouse, 8325 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.; Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 8 & 10:30 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m. A Springtime 4 & East 4th Street Production. (866) 811-4111, lovesucksplay.com. (Neal Weaver)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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 12, (800) 595-4849, macholikeme.com. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A..
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. Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., L.A., (213) 250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
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). plays411.com/me Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 6, (323) 960-7721, plays411.com/me. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A..
NEW REVIEW MEXICAN HISTORY 101 Attempting to resurrect the carpa style of theater (loosely, a Mexican vaudeville), playwright and director Rubén Amavizca-Murúa puts hundreds of years of history on parade in a satirical and very Brechtian way. The frame for all this is a grandfather (José de Jesús Martínez) educating his grandson Ernesto (Alex Ángeles), who reveals that he neither knows nor cares much for his heritage. The vignettes, beginning in Aztec times and running all the way through the 20th century, include Aztec princesses with prickly-pear iPads, a talk show featuring Moctezuma, Benito Juárez as the Mexican Statue of Liberty, and of course the ubiquitous presence of "Tia Juana's tacos," which are freely offered and eaten, despite their debilitating digestive effects. The preponderance of toilet humor, sex jokes, buffoonishly gay characters and randomly inserted anachronistic pop culture references detract from the political themes, which are occasionally affecting. It's possible that, as with telenovelas, the humor of the genre is lost in translation (and the Spanish asides garner laughs from the largely Latino audience), but the piece nonetheless feels overly broad and underdeveloped. The cornucopia of colorful costumes -- courtesy of Jeanette Godoy, Mariana Marroquín and Apolinar Delgadillo -- is a grand sight, but Amavizca-Murúa's haphazard blocking, on the already large stage, circumvents an acting style that plays best in intimate spaces. Frida Kahlo Theater, 2332 W. Fourth St., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 6 p.m., Friday shows in English, Saturday and Sunday shows in Spanish, through March 27. A Groupo de Teatro Sinergía Production. (213) 382-8133, fridakahlotheater.org. (Mayank Keshaviah)
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). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 27, (323) 644-1929, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A..
MOTHER Mary-Beth Manning's one-woman show about a complex mother/daughter relationship. plays411.com/mother Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 16, (323) 960-5774, plays411.com/mother. Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..
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). Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through March 9. Fake Gallery, 4319 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 644-4946, fakedotcom.com.
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). coeurage.org/tickets/buy Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 6, coeurage.org/tickets/buy. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-8043, www.actorscircle.net.
NUNSENSATIONS! Nuns go to Las Vegas in Dan Goggin's comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 7 p.m.; Sun., March 13, 7 p.m. Continues through March 13, (626) 695-8283. Lyric Theatre, 520 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., www.lyrictheatrela.com.
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). LOFTensemble.com Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 20, (213) 680-0392, LOFTensemble.com. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St., No. 105, L.A., www.loftensemble.com.
ONE NIGHT TO DIE FOR Scott Dittman directs two comedies in one night, Audience, by Michael Frayn, and Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through March 21, $20; $18 students/seniors. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A., (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com.
PIPPIN DOMA Theatre Company's dark take on the Stephen Schwartz musical. plays411.com/pippin Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 13, (323) 960- 5773, plays411.com/pippin. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., www.theMETtheatre.com.
PLAY DATES Sam Wolfson's offbeat love story. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 17, (323) 960-7784, plays411.com/playdates. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..
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 Bjørn 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). openfist.org Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 12, openfist.org. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, www.openfist.org.
THE SONNETEER 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. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 13. Davidson Valentini Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Pl., L.A., (323) 860-7300, www.lagaycenter.org.
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). Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 27. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 422-6361, www.theatretheater.net.
TEN-MINUTE PLAY 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. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 27, $10. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., (213) 368-9552.
UNSCREENED New short plays by Emily Halpern ("Prometheus, No!"), Leslye Headland ("Tits"), Beth Schacter ("Turned Out"), and Susanna Fogel & Joni Lefkowitz ("Life Partners"). Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 7, (310) 424-5085. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 852-9111.
VIOLATORS WILL BE VIOLATED Casey Smith's solo mime show. circlextheatre.org Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through March 19, (323) 644-1929, circlextheatre.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A..
THE VIOLET HOUR Richard Greenberg's tale of a publisher besieged by two authors. plays411.com/violethour Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 13, (323) 960-1054, plays411.com/violethour. Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A..
WOMEN IN SHORTS World premiere themed evening of theater, starring Joanna Miles and Louise Davis. brownpapertickets.com/event/143986 Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 20, (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/143986. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A., www.workingstage.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
NEW REVIEW GO THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO
Photo by Ed Krieger
Like the 1883 Italian novel from which it's adapted, Lee Hall's play about a willful marionette is not a sunny tale. Skillfully staged by director Stephen Rothman, this commedia dell'arte piece follows the random adventures of a self-centered puppet named Pinocchio (Amber Zion, voiced by Darrin Revitz) who is robbed, tricked, beaten and left for dead (among other misfortunes) before being happily reunited with his elderly father, Geppetto (Matthew Henerson, signed by Colin O'Brien-Lux). Unlike the Disney version, this Pinocchio is no dreamer; he's given to sulking, throwing tantrums and sometimes acting with malice -- like answering a Cricket's (Vae) advice by killing the insect with a mallet. Nineteenth-century novelist Carlo Collodi, who wrote the original, imbued his work with an implied middle-class admonishment to children: Work hard and go to school. Hall's adaptation is well-grounded in the original, so don't come expecting profound political allegory or sizzling social satire. (One scene relates to controversy within the deaf community about the pressures of learning to speak versus communicating with sign language.) Yet the production offers an abundance of eye-catching production values and a fine ensemble gifted in the art of physical comedy. Designer Evan Bartoletti's set frames the show with a fairy tale magic, further enhanced by Joe Cerqua's sound and original music and by the collective zaniness of Ann Closs-Farley's costumes, Carol F. Doran's makeup and wigs and Lisa Lechuga's specialty hats. Henerson's booming but kindly papa and James Royce Edwards as the evil ringmaster give standout performances. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m., Sat., March 26, 8 p.m., through March 27. (818) 762-2998. (Deborah Klugman)
BAR TALK Jay Parker's comedy set in a local bar. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., lizardtheater.com. Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St., Alhambra, (626) 457-5293, www.lizardtheater.com.
THE BIRTHDAY BOYS Theatre Unleashed presents Aaron Kozak's dark comedy about three U.S. marines taken hostage in Iraq. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 27, (818) 849-4039, theatreunleashed.com. NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, noho-stages.us.
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. Sat., March 5, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sun., March 6, 2 p.m., $20; $10 children and seniors. Lineage Performing Arts Center, 89 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 844-7008.
EVERYBODY DIES IN THE END Late-night comedy one-acts by Theatre Unleashed. Fridays, Saturdays, 10:15 p.m. Continues through March 25, theatreunleashed.com. NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, noho-stages.us.
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 fiancée, 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). theatermania.com Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 29, (323) 822-7898, theatermania.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.
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). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 762-2272, www.tworoadsgallery.com.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Man-eating-plant musical, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 6. Center Stage Theatre, 8463 Sierra Ave., Fontana, (909) 429-7469, www.centerstagefontana.com.
MELODRAMA Adam Neubauer's absurd comedy about a man's quest to find his father's murderer. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 12. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
A MIXED TAPE Eric Edwards' retrospective of a lonely guy's love life. amixedtape.com Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 27, amixedtape.com. Playhouse West Repertory Theater, 10634 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 332-3101, www.playhousewest.net.
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). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 12, (323) 960-7712, plays411.com/neweyes. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.
GO OEDIPUS THE TYRANT Photo courtesy of The Porters of Hellgate
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.
See Theater Feature.
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. (Amy Lyons). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 19, thevisceralcompany.com. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
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." skypilottheatre.com Fridays, Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through March 12, (800) 838-3006, skypilottheatre.com. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.
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). Saturdays, 11 p.m.; Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 22. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
STEALING BUFALLO 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). thegrouprep.com Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through March 6. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.
'TIL DEATH DO US PART: LATE NITE CATECHISM 3 Catholic nun offers lessons on marriage, by Maripat Donovan. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.). Starting March 7, Mon., March 7, 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through April 4, $28. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL Horton Foote's nostalgia story. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 6. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com.
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn's spelling-bee musical. Fridays, Saturdays, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 27, ctgsc.org. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village, (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
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). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 13. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (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). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 13. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055.
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. creoutreach.org/decider Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 10, (310) 902-8220, creoutreach.org/decider. Magicopolis, 1418 Fourth St., Santa Monica.
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). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 27. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
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. (Bill Raden). calrep.org Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 12, (562) 985-5526, calrep.org. Queen Mary, 1126 Queens Hwy., Long Beach, www.queenmary.com.
A JEW GROWS IN BROOKLYN Jake Ehrenreich's comedy musical memoir. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 5 p.m. Continues through March 6, (866) 811-4111, ajewgrowsinbrooklyn.com. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Dr., Bel-Air, www.uj.edu.
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. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3:30 p.m. Continues through April 16. The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9779.
A NIGHT AT THE OSCARS Peter Quilter's comedy about a thespian couple preparing to sing at the Academy Awards. brownpapertickets.com Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March 20, brownpapertickets.com. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu, (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). citygargage.org Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 13, (310) 319-9939, citygargage.org. Track 16 Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., C1, Santa Monica, www.track16.com.
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. latensemble.com Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 6, latensemble.com. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-3680.
THE SUGAR BEAN SISTERS Nathan Sanders' story of "swampland sisterhood." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 27, 7 p.m.; Thu., April 7, 8 p.m. Continues through April 9. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, (310) 512-6030, littlefishtheatre.org.