Stage Raw: Completeness
NEW THEATER REVIEWS
Stage FEATURE on God of Carnage and The Merchant of Venice
COMPREHENSIVE THEATER LISTINGS FOR April 22 - 28, 2011
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
ALL ABOUT WALKEN The Impersonators of Christopher Walken: Eight male and female actors emote Walken. Thu., April 28, 8 p.m. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0202, acmecomedy.com.
BURN THE FLOOR The international ballroom sensation dances the Cha-Cha, the Rumba, the Viennese Waltz, the Tango, the Samba, the Mambo, and many more. Starting April 26, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through May 8. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (213) 365-3500, broadwayla.org.
THE CHINESE MASSACRE Circle X Theatre Co. presents Tom Jacobson's retelling of the lynching of 18 Chinese men in 1871 Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through May 28, circlextheatre.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A., (213) 368-9552.
THE COLUMBINE PROJECT Paul Storiale examines the Colorado high school massacre. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30, brownpapertickets.com/event/168171. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 766-9100.
COMPLETENESS Computer scientist hooks up with a molecular biologist, by Itamar Moses. Fri., April 22, 7:45 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 & 7:45 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:45 p.m. Continues through May 8. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.
HOUSE OF THE RISING SON Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A. presents Tom Jacobson's Southern gothic romance. Starting April 23, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 29, (323) 644-1929, ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A..
LONESOME TRAVELER World premiere of James O'Neil's musical tour, from the backwoods of Appalachia to the nightclubs of New York, the 1920s to the '60s. Starting April 23, Sat., April 23, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through May 8. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, (805) 667-2900.
MR. MARMALADE Noah Haidle's story of a 4-year-old with an imaginary friend with a cocaine addiction. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 21. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (866) 811-4111, thegaragetheatre.org.
THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE Jason Alexander and Gina Hecht star in Neil Simon's rat-race comedy. Starting April 23, Sat., April 23, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Tue., May 3, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through May 15. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com.
SILKEN VEILS Leila Ghaznavi's mix of Rumi poetry, puppetry and animation with live performance. Fri., April 22, 8:30 p.m.; Sat., April 23, 8:30 p.m. Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica, (310) 315-1459, highwaysperformance.org.
TREASURE ISLAND The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre presents Ken Ludwig's adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate tale. Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5 p.m. Continues through May 1. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE
NEW REVIEW THE ALL NIGHT STRUT! Steeped in nostalgia, this mild evening of musical entertainment ushers us through the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar boom with its crowd-pleasing selection of popular tunes. Conceived by Fran Charnas, with musical direction from Dean Mora (also on piano), the show features a trio of musicians and a quartet of singer-dancers who warble their way through a daisy chain of timeless songs from the 1930s and 40s. Dolled up in cute retro fashions (costumes by Sharon McGunigle), the four singers (Michael Dotson, Jayme Lake, Scotch Ellis Loring and Jennifer Shelton) embark with 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' and glide their way through classic songs of those decades, concluding Act 1 with a WWII medley of hits. Competently backing them up, alongside Mora on piano, are Jim Garafalo on double bass and Ray Frisby on drums. The four part harmonies are stronger than the solos, though the women do better in the lower register. It's too bad "Minnie the Moocher" is the second song of the night as it might have supported some audience participation (call and response) if placed later in the evening once the crowd was warmed up. Nevertheless the cast swings with a relaxed ease from one toe-tapping song to the next during this snappy, feel-good show. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; mats Sat., 3 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru May 1. (818) 558-7000. colonytheatre.org. (Pauline Adamek)
THE BLUEST EYE People often use others to mirror themselves. Pecola (Sola Bamis), the pivotal figure in Lydia R. Diamond's stage adaptation of Toni Morrison's 1970 novel, is a dark-skinned black child perceived as ugly by others -- and, unfortunately, by herself as well. Growing up in Ohio in 1941, she longs for blue eyes to help redeem her from her pariah status. Eventually she obtains them -- but not before she's undergone a series of brutal, self-annihilating events. Diamond's narration-laden script hews to the book, telling much of the story from the vantage of other characters, chiefly Pecola's kind and more fortunate friend, Claudia (Tekquiree Spencer), and Claudia's sister, Frieda (Tiffany Danielle). The result is a talky drama in which the most horrific -- yet most dramatic -- elements are pushed into the shadows. (One reason may be that the play initially was created for young audiences.) Perhaps a more consummate ensemble would have transcended these shortcomings, but as directed by Janet Miller, they appear obvious. Shamika Franklin is notable for her crisp, three-dimensional portrait of Pecola's wounded mother, while Kwesiu Jones and Willie Mack Daniels are uniformly professional in various roles. One highly enjoyable scene involves Danika Butler making a splash as the pretty light-skinned middle-schooler whom everyone envies. But Bamis' ingenuous victim needs nuance, and Spencer, carrying the burden of language, does an able job but without the polish and pacing needed to keep us rapt. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through April 24, (714) 690-2900, PhantomProjects.com. Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica.
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, Mr. 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. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 15, (866) 811-4111, boomermaniathemusical.com. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, elportaltheatre.com.
BURN THE FLOOR The international ballroom sensation dances the Cha-Cha, the Rumba, the Viennese Waltz, the Tango, the Samba, the Mambo, and many more. Starting April 26, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through May 8. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (213) 365-3500, broadwayla.org.
GO BURN THIS Lanford Wilson was poetic even in his passing. The playwright, who premiered Burn This at the Mark Taper Forum 24 years ago, passed away on March 23, 2011, the night the Taper began previews of its first revival production of the play. Even the play's premise feels eerily symbolic: Shaken by the unexpected death of their friend Robbie, three friends find themselves confronting their paralyzed lives. Anna, consumed by her career as a dancer, struggles to create an exciting personal life, but chooses a safe lover in Burton. Wilson introduces an unlikely savior: Robbie's runaway train wreck of a brother, Pale. Crashing wildly into Anna's loft after an all-nighter, Adam Rothenberg's Pale is the hot, pounding heart of this production: As the radiator hisses on, he tells Anna, "I deliver water. I put out fires... but sometimes you just let it burn." Clutching at his heart, which is "fucking killing" him, and continuing on a coke-fueled rant that ranges from trash-talking the neighborhood to shedding tears over his brother's death, Pale finishes his first scene with a seduction so sexy that he's clearly throwing wood, not water, on this fire. Brooks Ashmanskas, as Anna's gay roommate Larry, is flamboyantly funny but still fleshes the character beyond campiness. Ken Barnett's Burton is purposefully boring. Zabryna Guevara's Anna, with her canned vocal inflections and forced emotion, is the stiffest of the cast. A special nod to Ralph Funicello's set, whose vast, underused space perfectly suits the characters' stunted lives. Coursing with adrenaline, Burn This spurs you as if a firecracker nearly went off in your hand. Live, Wilson shouts, NOW. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Sundays, 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 1. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., (213) 628-2772.
THE CHAIRS Eugene Ionesco's slice of absurdity and futility receives a faithful staging at A Noise Within. Over the course of this 80-minute, one-act play, an aging couple drags out dozens of decrepit chairs to accommodate a crowd of distinguished guests -- who prove imaginary. Old regrets surface from the depths of their memories, and the Old Man lapses into melancholy and grief when recalling the loss of his mother. Company members Deborah Strang and Geoff Elliott (directed by ANW Artistic Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott) seldom evoke amusement, even when lewdly flirting with their invisible visitors. A gloomy mist pervades a set of dingy, peeling gray walls. Stephen W. Gifford's set and prop design and Ken Booth's lighting suggest a postapocalyptic setting (supported by a single line in the play) and the sense they are isolated in a circular building surrounded by water. Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin clothes the two leads in layers of rags and ratty furs, once sumptuous, now shabby. Ionesco's fixation with solitude, nothingness and the insignificance of human existence results in a stark experience. I prefer theater -- even absurdist comedies about the end of the world -- to come with at least some levity and relief from the obvious. (Pauline Adamek). Thu., April 28, 8 p.m.; Fri., April 29, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 30, 2 & 8 p.m.; Wed., May 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., May 12, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 13, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 15, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thu., May 19, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 20, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 21, 2 & 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org.
GO THE COMEDY OF ERRORS A strongman, a ventriloquist, three showgirls and a mimic with 1,000 voices make up just half of the Burlesque on Brand troupe, which enters, grandstands and immediately plunges into Shakespeare's shortest and most slapstick comedy about two pairs of long-lost twins crisscrossing in Ephesus. Here, servant Dromio (Jerry Kernion) wears a plaid toga, argyle socks and saddle shoes. (The four credited costumers have done fantastic work.) When Dromio vents to hero Antipholous (Bruce Turk) that the chubby kitchen wench (Gibby Brand) who claims she's his betrothed "is spherical, like a globe -- I could find out countries in her," their banter smacks of Abbott and Costello. Director Michael Michetti's dynamite ensemble is held together by Turk's leading man, who, like his Errol Flynn mustache and the production itself, is playful and self-mocking, but never ironic. Michetti inventively turns bereft father Egeon's (Michael Stone Forrest) tale of how he lost his four sons -- the longest speech in Shakespeare's canon -- into a silent black-and-white film, but the director's not above showing a pie in the face. And he even gets laughs for Adriana (Abby Craden) and Luciana (Annie Abrams) in their usually thankless roles. In the first few scenes, the play threatens to become a musical, but once past the momentary misstep of two musical numbers, the production settles into the most droll and deft staging of The Comedy of Errors I've seen in a decade. (Amy Nicholson). 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.
GO THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN If you think Los Angeles is an unkind city, you should try Inishmaan, the seemingly quaint and picturesque Irish village setting of Martin McDonagh's compelling drama. There, the villagers' otherwise adorable eccentricities have abraded on each other to the point of sparking near-psychotic frustration. By rights, the play should be a sentimental tale, but McDonagh's ferocious writing artfully skewers expectations of stereotypes, instead crafting a character-driven toxic dance of hope and despair. In this tiny island town, circa 1934, young orphan Crippled Billy (Tadhg Murphy) has been raised by two spinster "aunties" (Dearbhla Molloy and Ingrid Craigie), following his parents' tragic death at sea years ago. Within his claustrophobic and incredibly impoverished community, Crippled Billy's dreams have not gone much further than the hope of a kiss from bad-tempered (and possibly psychotic) town floozy Slippy Helen (Clare Dunne), the Egg Man's assistant. However, when Hollywood moviemakers arrive on a nearby island to make a film about the "real" Ireland, Crippled Billy pulls out the stops to become a star -- though the results of his scheme take an unexpectedly tragic turn. McDonagh's gorgeously lyrical dialogue is full of one-liners, quirky wit and biting irony, while also capturing the understated sorrow of people who believe life is nothing but suffering punctuated by loss. Like the writing, director Garry Hynes' taut, often explosive yet intimate staging boasts both impeccable comic timing and heartrending pathos -- often within a few seconds of each other. Galway's Druid Theatre Company cast is extraordinary, crafting an ensemble of small-village archetypes who appear lovable at first but whose seething undercurrents of spite and malice become all too evident. Murphy offers a sweet and idealistic turn as Crippled Billy, but the supporting figures are startlingly multidimensional as well, from Craigie's tough Aunt Kate to Dunne's abjectly terrifying Helen, and including Dermot Crowley in a hilarious, towering turn as the town's reprehensible gossip. A Druid Theatre Company and Center Theatre Group presentation. (Paul Birchall). Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 6:30 p.m. Continues through May 1, $20-$45. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772.
CYCLOPS: A ROCK OPERA Ancient Greek satyr play turned rock opera, presented by Psittacus Productions. (In the Carrie Hamilton Theatre.). Saturdays, 11 p.m.; Thursdays, Sundays, 9 p.m. Continues through May 8. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE Among the hazards of dramatizing hot topics, shelf life can be the most bedeviling. The time it takes to get a scalding current event from headline to script to stage virtually assures that the initiating, blood-boiling public outrage will have long-chilled into yawning audience indifference. Such is sadly the case with playwright Donald Freed's stale speculative tale about Panamanian General Manuel Noriega (Robert Beltran) and his infamous attempt to seek sanctuary with Archbishop Jose Sebastian Laboa (Tom Fitzpatrick) in the Papal consulate during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. As the ailing archbishop prostrates himself in evening prayers, the sounds of gunfire and circling U.S. military helicopters (effectively piped by sound designer John Zalewski) announce both the expected, albeit dreaded arrival of the freshly ousted dictator and besieging U.S. marines. The exasperated prelate would like nothing better than to turn over his volatile guest to the invaders. The general eventually agrees to leave, but only if the Vatican's former grand inquisitor first hears his side of the story and adjudges the general to be as diabolical as charged. During the ensuing confession, Freed spins a historical web of colonial collusion between church and state ranging from Columbus and Balboa to Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Director Jose Luis Valenzuela pulls out all the production stops ― including Francois-Pierre Couture's decrepit, blood-splashed set ― but not even veteran talents like Beltran and Fitzpatrick can compensate for the urgency or allegorical lift that Freed's excursive text so sorely lacks. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 24, (213) 489-0994. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., thelatc.org.
GO THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE It's New Year's Eve in Tennessee Williams' drama, and Alma Winemiller is enchanted by the crisp snaps of "frosty branches crackin'," but she's so flushed with an inner flame she's shed jacket, scarf and gloves. Deborah Puette's Alma is burning, set alight by a firecracker the recently graduated doctor John Buchanan (Jason Dechert, in a role made for him) casually tosses at her during Glorious Hill, Mississippi's Fourth of July celebration. But Alma isn't like the pretty, simple girls who have surrounded the eligible Buchanan up north. Nearing spinsterhood, she's the town eccentric, who scatters crumbs for birds in the square and is given to heart palpitations that seem a result of the fluttery bird beating about in her own chest. Simultaneously attracted ("The light keeps changin' in [her eyes]") and repelled ("It's not lit," he says in the heartbreaking penultimate scene, crudely referring to his sexual desire), Buchanan engages with Alma as an almost scientific experiment. Yet Williams refuses to allow such cold sterility, and in a scene so charged it leaves you smoldering in your seat, Buchanan examines a frantic Alma, uttering possibly the most erotic three words ever written by a playwright. Director Damaso Rodriguez dances the entire production through the play's musicality on a stage lit beautifully by James P. Taylor in the soft gauziness that Williams' "romantic clichés" demand. In fact, the only slip is that early on, Puette rests on an overactive accent. But by the second act, even that flaw is forgiven, and as Williams' ever-tragic tide begins to come in, the only thing to do is let it wash over you. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fri., April 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 7, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., May 8, 2 p.m.; Sun., May 22, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thu., May 26, 8 p.m.; Fri., May 27, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 28, 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, (818) 240-0910, anoisewithin.org.THE ESCORT Jane Anderson's new play comes in a sleekly performed and perhaps too sleekly directed drama with scintillating ideas about the sex trade in our culture. The work depicts the sex trade as yet another arena in which we give up our selves in the barter for comforting fantasies of power and control, humility and humiliation. The play is on the road to a destination that hasn't yet been discovered. Some of this has to do with Anderson's expository writing style, and some with director Lisa Peterson's punching scene transitions that obscure some reflective essences in Anderson's writing. Some with lapses of credibility and some with the play's gratuitous reliance on sentimentality. The story focuses on two women whose lives intersect -- an obstetrician named Rhona (Polly Draper) and her patient, the high-end prostitute Charlotte (the excellent Maggie Siff). Rhona is trying to co-rear her 13-year-old son (Gabriel Sunday) with her urologist ex, Howard (James Eckhouse), and the play's crux lies in the evolving and devolving friendship between the two women, who both regard themselves as healers. Like Anderson's The Baby Dance -- which concerns the friction between an infertile, well-heeled urban couple and the dirt-poor birth mother of the child they've contracted for -- The Escort wears its social satire and insights into the class divide like a glittering jewel. It's at its best in scenes such as a contracted bedroom liaison between Charlotte and Howard, in which Anderson blisteringly satirizes Howard's postcoital arrogance and condescension in what he presumes to be a genial conversation with Charlotte. He cavalierly refers to other "whores," prompting her to fire back, defensively, that she's been with men who actually run the world, and "You're nobody." In this play's universe, he may not be able to run her world, but he can certainly ruin it, because of her somewhat inexplicable, sentimental interest in his and Rhona's son. That this presumptuous "nobody" should have such power over Charlotte's destiny is a potent view of social injustice. If only it were attached to more plausible dramaturgy. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through May 8. (310) 208-5454. geffenplayhouse.com (Steven Leigh Morris)
GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE Gershwin's life and legendary songbook, starring Hershey Felder. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through May 9. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 356-PLAY, pasadenaplayhouse.org.
GOD OF CARNAGE Yasmina Reza's 2006 play God of Carnage -- translated by Christopher Hampton and reuniting the 2009 Broadway cast (Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden) -- swirls around an argument between two children who never appear onstage. One, having been called a "snitch" by the other, answered by smashing his accuser in the face with a stick and knocking out two of his teeth. The play, however, doesn't so much explore the origins of loathing between people as it assumes them as a given and then merely reveals them. There's little paradox, just various forms of decorum that get slowly, systematically yanked away - eviscerating its characters through primarily through mockery. It unfolds in the home of the child-victim's parents, Veronica and Michael (Harden and Gandolfini) -- depicted in Daryl A. Stone's set as a contemporary slab of domesticity. A cracked-stone-wall backdrop (all those fissures dividing what appears so solid), juxtaposed against art books stacked on the floor and tucked under coffee tables, signals a landing pad for liberal ideals. Yet that pad stands surrounded by a wash of red -- the raging fire of aggression that's been licking at, if not engulfing, the translucent skin of civilization for millennia. Veronica's husband, Michael, is a self-made wholesaler, a blue-collar fellow pressured by the play's circumstances to pretend he's far more tenderhearted than his temperament allows. After a few drinks, he'll reveal his true colors. Veronica and Michael are visited by the parents of the aggressor-child, Alan and Annette (Daniels and Davis). Alan is a high-powered lawyer who, we discern from his incessant cellphone conversations, represents big pharma. Alan's emotionally precarious wife, Annette, is into "wealth management" -- the wealth of her husband. It all starts out so reasonably. Nobody wants to go legal over a kids' squabble. That thin amiability becomes stretched by the consumption of too much alcohol, until it starts to tear. As the tensions among them rise, the initially agreed-upon premise that a problem child struck an innocent peer gets expanded to the theory that the abuser may have been justified because he'd been insulted. The rhythmic ebbs and flows of Matthew Warchus' direction of his perfect cast keep the play about as taut as can be imagined. But the comic-dramatic tension of who can gore whom is like watching a bullfight. It's sadism mixed with technique, and the bloody outcome isn't really in question. I found myself riveted for an hour or so, until the dramatic formula became formulaic. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m., Sat., 2 & 8 p.m., Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 29. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Man-eating-plant musical, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken. Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through May 1. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, (562) 944-9801.
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE probes the essences of hostility by stacking up multiple causes of Shylock's (F. Murray Abraham) resentment -- headed by the loss of his daughter (Melissa Miller) to a Christian suitor (Vince Nappo) -- that lead to Shylock wishing to exact a pound of Christian flesh for no reason other than spite. Therein lies his only salvation in anti-Semitic Venice, and for that he is crucified on a cross of his own making. Abraham's Shylock contains an almost rarefied dignity that melts into exalted agony. It's a deft and beautiful performance that's scantily supported by the rest of the ensemble, and by Darko Tresnjak's Euro-chic staging. John Lee Beatty's stark set places a trinity of MacBook computers on pedestals. Sound designer Jane Shaw has them blipping and beeping the play into the 21st century. Abraham's Shylock may be more tender than Al Pacino's recent Broadway incarnation, directed by Daniel Sullivan, but this production pales by comparison. The ethnic slurs are here like barbs, punched out as though to declaim, "You see, this is a play about bigotry." Sullivan's staging muted all of that, so that the play floated down a stream of decorum -- which is precisely what made the trial of Antonio, when Venice's bigotry manifested itself full-force, so harrowing to watch. Moreover, in Sullivan's version, there was never a hitch in the clarity of the story. Here the vagaries of the settings, combined with some monochromatic supporting performances, lead to a tumble of words and passions that takes a while to congeal. Kate MacCluggage turns Portia into a regal beauty who can transmit a freight load of subtext in a single glance. This disintegrates when she doubles as a local, revered judge -- and though that's a crucial scene, at least it's short. Her waiting woman (Christen Simon Marabate) also has an effervescence that helps lift this production's heavy load. Presented by Theatre for a New Audience at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; Wed. & Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Through April 24. (310) 434-3414. (Steven Leigh Morris)
GO N*GGER WETB*CK CH*NK In 2002, three UCLA students collaborate on a racial stereotype-inspired performance piece that blends theater, stand-up comedy, poetry and hip-hop. A scant two years later their show has transferred to the Los Angeles Theatre Center and garners rave reviews. Before long the trio is touring 32 states, selling out venues, and a grassroots phenomenon is born. As part of that tour, the show with the name people are still uncomfortable to say aloud returns to Los Angeles for a third time since its inception. The brainchild of Rafael Agustin, Allan Axibal and Miles Gregley, as well as their former mentors Liesel Reinhart and Steven T. Seagle (who both direct), the show features new additions Dionysio Basco and Jackson McQueen who, along with Agustin, keep audiences rolling with laughter. Since the show first opened, we have seen the rise of Obama and Sotomayor, yet we've also seen open racial slurs from elements within the Tea Party and the passage of SB 1070, Arizona's strict immigration law. Two steps forward, one step back. So more than ever, we need a show that embraces, dismantles and remixes the racial stereotypes that simmer beneath the surface. The three actors do a fabulous job of squeezing in sentimental moments of poignancy, but revert back to comedy before they become trite or preachy. Reinhart and Seagle's direction keeps the actors efficiently darting in and out of the Mondrian curtain of colored squares that serves as backdrop, and Kristie Roldan's nimble lighting keeps pace, even if the actors sometimes don't quite find their marks. N.W.C. is most definitely in the house, and you'd be wise to catch them before they're Audi once more. A Speak Theater Arts Production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23, (818) 495-4925, nwclive.com. Barnsdall Art Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..
QUIDAM Return of Cirque du Soleil's 1996 acrobatic spectacle. (Also at April the Citizen's Business Bank Arena in Ontario, April 27-May 1.). Fri., April 22, 3:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sat., April 23, 3:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sun., April 24, 1 & 5 p.m. Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-3636.
SILENT SKY One of the cardinal sins in playwriting is allowing the audience to get too far ahead of the story. Any but the tautest of grips on the narrative leash will exact its toll in attenuated tension and let loose the dogs of boredom. So it is with playwright Lauren Gunderson's feminist-flavored rehabilitation of pre-World War I Harvard astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (Monette Magrath) in this harmless and anodyne commission by South Coast Rep, now playing on its main stage. In real life, Leavitt was one of Harvard astronomer Edward Charles Pickering's all-women "human computers" engaged in number-crunching drudgery while actual telescope time was reserved as a bastion of male privilege. The play presents her as a poet and frustrated dreamer whose determination to circumvent the unseen Pickering during her off-hours condemns her to spinsterhood but results in "Leavitt's Law," the critical astronomical yardstick that would enable later scientists to fix our place in the limitless expanse of the cosmos. Colette Kilroy and Amelia White lend fine support as the heroine's closet-suffragette computer cohorts, and Nick Toren is suitably spineless as the romantic interest who is both smitten by Henrietta's rebellious wit and threatened by her superior intellectual ability. Costumer David Kay Mickelsen contributes meticulous period detail to director Anne Justine D'Zmura's sleek production, while York Kennedy's lights and John Crawford's projections animate the evening firmament spinning above John Iacovelli's spare, rotating turntable set. All that moving spectacle can do little, however, to help the overly familiar text catch up to an audience left waiting at the final blackout for the work to add up to something greater than the sum of its wiki facts. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Continues through May 1. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555, scr.org.
THE UGLY DUCKLING Interactive kids' musical by Lloyd J. Schwartz and Adryan Russ. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 9, (818) 761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., theatrewest.org.
WAITING FOR GODOT Samuel Beckett's existentialist classic. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 1. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014, lbph.com.
GO A WEEKEND WITH PABLO PICASSO Sitting half-naked in a cardboard box painted to resemble a bathtub, Herbert Siguenza launches into an imagined weekend in the life of Pablo Picasso in a manner that seems entirely fitting: balls out. Siguenza ― a painter and impassioned fan of Picasso who's known for his work in the performance group Culture Clash ― bases his solo show on a collection of utterances by the mercurial, prolific co-founder of the Cubist movement, setting it in the artist's studio on the coast of France in 1957. Tasked with creating six paintings and three vases in less than three days, Picasso, at the age of 76, becomes a whirling dervish of work and wild philosophizing. Though the countless famous quotes (including many heavy-handed statements about love, war and politics) and the protagonist's streak of two dozen Eureka moments in 90 minutes sometimes lends an air of staginess to the work, getting to watch Siguenza paint, prowl the stage and lovingly channel the spirit of an eccentric icon more than makes up for the moments of inauthenticity. Scenic designer Giulio Cesare Perrone creates an art studio fit for a legend and Victoria Petrovich's projection design synchs perfectly with the boldness of Siguenza's performance. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 1. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS
ALL ABOUT WALKEN The Impersonators of Christopher Walken: Eight male and female actors emote Walken. Thu., April 28, 8 p.m. Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 525-0202, acmecomedy.com.
ATTACK OF THE 50 FT SUNDAY Jordan Black directs the Groundlings Sunday Company. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.
BASH latterday plays: Coeurage Theatre presents Neil Labute's Mormon tragedies. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15, coeurage.org. Actors Circle Theatre, 7313 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-8043, actorscircle.net.
GO THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT 2050: Stories about dystopian societies often risk seeming contrived, but playwright Tania Wisbar's beautifully detailed and elegiac tale depicts a world that might believably exist, say, 100 years after a Nazi takeover. In the future, poverty and disease have been eliminated, but the world is instead organized on entirely practical lines, with your right to survive being decided by the number of "points" you earn every year. On the 75th birthday of family matriarch Teresa (Salome Jens), her devoted daughter Marsha (Elyssa Davalos) thinks she has collected enough points from her two sisters and family to allow Teresa to live another year. More than just being the emotional center of her clan, Teresa is one of the last living rebels who recalls life before the odious new order came to pass. Marsha's hopes are threatened when unexpected complications amp up the charge for Teresa's right to life. In director Jonathan Sanger's beautifully melancholy staging, what could be a mechanical exercise in high-concept plotting becomes a wistful tale of how easy it would be to purge memory of the past from the world. Sanger's smoothly executed production boasts many rich details: Set designer Kis Knekt's calculatedly sterile living room is replete with decorative video screens that show 1984-esque messages from the genially sinister bureaucrat (Jeffrey Doornbos) who oversees the family's doings. Knekt's set, in conjunction with composer Karen Martin's eerie incidental music, crafts a world that's just plain crazy. The ensemble work is just as assured. Apart from Jens' powerful turn as the ferociously nonconforming grandmother, Davalos' complex performance as Marsha is exceptional: Her character is seemingly an upbeat chirper, but her good mood is so clearly artificial, it seems as though she's always about to weep. Also engaging in supporting roles are Katrina Lenk, as Marsha's venomously selfish younger sister, and Demetrius Grosse, as a guilt-haunted security agent. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 22, (323) 960-7733, plays411.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., L.A..
BLINK & YOU MIGHT MISS ME You've seen Larry Blum before ― in fact, I'd bet $20 bucks you've seen Blum on TV a dozen times. But unless you know who you're looking for, you might not have noticed him. When his one-man show about his career opens with footage of Meryl Streep's 2010 Golden Globes win and Blum struts out and asks, "Did you notice who took Meryl to the stage?" the audience does a double take. Blum is an on-camera talent escort, a hired gun who makes sure no star snaps a stiletto on her way to accept an award. Before that, he was a dancer, and earlier still he was a celebrity-obsessed gay Jewish teen in late '60s New York who lost his virginity to a sailor in an alley behind a Nestle truck. ("Every time I have a cup of cocoa, I still get hard," he reminisces.) Blum's good-humored, self-deprecating show has the patter of a dinner party guest who's told his stories a few too many times, and director Stan Zimmerman could get Blum's one-liners to sound more off-the-cuff. Still, Blum's got bite and it's lucky for him that among the many, many stars he dishes dirt about, at least half are dead or too old to bother calling a lawyer (Roseanne Barr, Raquel Welch and Dionne Warwick should stay away). Though in his youth he hoped to become famous, Blum doesn't paint himself as a has-been, never-was or will-be. He's proud to pay his rent by pursuing his dream ― and by being a shameless residual check hound who even joined Susan Lucci's fan club to make sure he made every nickel from taking Lucci's arm during her big Emmy win. (He elbowed her husband out of the way for the honor.) Blum's cascade of quick clips keeps multimedia operator Matthew Quinn busy as they stack up to build a scrapbook of the busiest actor you'd never recognize. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 27, (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/blink. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A., theatreasylum-la.com.
BONDED Bolstered by director Jon Lawrence Rivera's unadorned, precise vision, Act 1 of Donald Jolly's homoerotic slave narrative set on a Virginia plantation in 1820 is a piece of earnest, thought-provoking theater. Jolly's frank but lovely storytelling graces the genre with fresh insights about the lives of slaves, traveling beyond the dehumanizing stories of sexual abuse and unspeakable human violence penned so powerfully in the firsthand accounts of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, taking us instead to a slightly reimagined slice of the old South, where sexual freedom becomes nearly as urgent as freedom from human ownership. Sonny (Terrence Colby Clemons), Lily (Toyin Moses) and Jack (Carl Crudup) are the last remaining slaves on a rapidly crumbling Virginia plantation. Enter Asa (Eric B. Anthony), a New York "house boy," whom the three plantation slaves quickly dub "new nigger." Accustomed to fetching cocktails and completing other indoor chores, Asa melts down after being shackled and scrubbed, whipped by Jack (a 70-something, self-proclaimed "true African" who wants to keep the uppity Northerner in his place) and forced to keep impossibly long hours plowing fields. When Sonny and Asa begin to bond emotionally, sexual tensions arise and eventually explode. Sadly, Act 2 is a bundle of redundancies, a drawn-out series of melodramatic manipulations that don't do justice to the first act's promise. Bob Blackburn's sound design, Adam Blumenthal's lighting and John H. Binkley's set serve the story well. (Amy Lyons). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 24, playwrightsarena.org. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A., (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org.
CABARET DOMA Theatre Co.'s sexed-up take on the Kander-Ebb musical. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 22, (323) 960-5773, plays411.com/cabaret. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., theMETtheatre.com.
GO CABARET IDOL "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. (Amy Nicholson). Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 24. Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, 6122 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 466-9917.
GO CAUGHT In the aftermath of Proposition 8 passing in November 2008, one of the regrets of those who fought valiantly for gay marriage and against the proposition was that enough wasn't done to "normalize" gay couples. And while the events in David L. Ray's world-premiere play take place in July 2008, Caught furthers the cause by dramatizing one of those healthy relationships. In it, Angelenos Kenneth (Corey Brill) and Troy (Will Beinbrink) are on the eve of their nuptials, a ceremony that will be officiated by their friend Splenda (Micah McCain), who is ordained via the Internet. This blissful scene is interrupted by a visit from Kenneth's estranged sister, Darlene (Deborah Puette), who is very Southern and very Christian, as well as her daughter, Krystal (Amanda Kaschak). In the interludes between scenes, we also see Darlene's husband, T.J. (Richard Jenik), preaching to his conservative congregation in Georgia. Secrets, lies and surprising revelations fuel the drama. Director Nick DeGruccio deftly takes Ray's strong and likable characters from page to stage, sparingly playing up stereotypes for comedy without ever reducing the characters to them. Adding to the authenticity are Adam Flemming's delightfully detailed set and Katherine Hampton Noland's colorful couture. Adding to the emotional investment in the story is a talented cast; standouts include Puette, for her rich and intense portrayal of Darlene; McCain, for balancing divalike comedy with deep sincerity; and Kaschak, for combining fresh-faced innocence and a willfulness to create a very believable teenager. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15, (800) 595-4849, CaughtThePlay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., L.A..
COPENHAGEN Black Cat Productions presents Michael Frayn's "exploration of history, science and the human spirit." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23, (323) 960-4420, plays411.com/copenhagen. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., L.A., attictheatre.org/tickets.
CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS Newly revised version of Sam Shepard's 1978 surreal comic melodrama about the end of the American Dream. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 4. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.
DOUG LOVES MOVIES Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m., Free. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702.
THE ELEPHANT MAN Just minutes into director John Drouillard's revival of Bernard Pomernace's 1979 drama, a man in a worn hospital gown whose face is fixed in an expressionless stare is introduced as John Merrick and then shuffled off the stage. Not long afterwards, Mr. Merrick (John Hoagland) is on display, with his grotesque deformities itemized in a frosty, clinical manner to an audience of gawkers after undergoing a breathtaking transformation into the "Elephant Man." The contrast is a nice turn by Drouillard; the fact that it's also an intensely unsettling moment is a tribute to the genius and artistry of the play's make up designer, Barney Burman. The play chronicles the final stages of Merrick's life after he is given permanent shelter at the London Hospital Medical College and placed under the care of Dr. Frederick Treves (Alex Monti Fox). The play isn't so much about Merrick's condition and dehumanizing "thingification" as much as it is about the transformative effect he had on those closest to him and our often cynical sense of morality. Though neatly-packaged, Drouillard's production lacks the requisite emotional resonance; too often it feels as if we too are dispassionate examiners of Merrick's plight instead of being emotionally drawn into it. On balance, cast performances are quite good. Sean Hoagland is impressive as Merrick, and Hillary Herbert does a wonderful turn as Mrs. Kendall, the actress and caretaker who provides Merrick with genuine tenderness. The complex relationship between Merrick and Treves is the soul of this play, but Fox is convincing only in patches, and seems completely out of his depth for this enormously critical role. Vali Tirsoaga has fashioned a simple yet effective set design, and Pheobe H. Boynton's costumes are equally well-crafted. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through April 24, theelephantmanplay.com. El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., L.A..
GO ENDGAME A successful staging of Samuel Beckett's absurdist classic requires a director who can mine the play's comic and lyrical elements, and effectively meld them with the author's relentlessly harsh vision. Here, director Paul Plunkett does just that, aided by an excellent cast which maintains that crucial balance throughout. Endgame is about four pitiful characters trapped in a dismal room as the outside world collapses in decay and sterility. Unlike the forlorn tramps in Waiting for Godot, there is no expectation of relief or purpose, just the slow passage of time ending in an inevitable, painful demise. Confined in a pair of battered, industrial containers, the ghoulish-looking Nagg and Nell (Barry Ford and the striking Kathy Bell Denton) emerge sporadically to break the tedium of the central "action," which unfolds on a rickety caricature of a throne. There, the blind, crippled Hamm (Leon Russom) is unable to move and has his needs tended to by the perpetually besieged Clov (David Fraioli), in a bizarre, ongoing ritual of servitude. When, toward the end, Hamm asks about his painkiller, and is told by Clov that there isn't any more, we know that, for this outing anyway, the laughs are balm enough. As effective as Plunkett's direction is, this fine revival really soars on the wings of the cast's terrific performances. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.
FACEBOOKThe weekly show formerly known as MySpace. Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m., $5. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, 5919 Franklin Ave., L.A., (323) 908-8702.
FIVE BY TENN One-Act Festival: Five short plays by Tennessee Williams. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 1. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 467-6688, theatre68.com.
GO GIRLS TALK Roger Kumble's new seriocomedy sets out to debunk that famous feminist promise that women can have it all -- the career, the family and their sanity. As lights go up on a beached Brooke Shields, a milk pump attached to each breast, Kumble softens up his audience with broad comic strokes and entertainment industry in-jokes. He even pokes fun at racism before settling in to a serious examination of four power moms in Brentwood, and the dilemmas they face. As mother of three Lori, Shields shows up in a pink hoodie and Uggs, but pretty soon sky-high wedge heels and hefty designer handbags take over the stage (costumes by Ann Closs-Farley). She slobs about the solid, trilevel set (design by Tom Buderwitz) as the other, more pretentious moms arrive. Meanwhile Lori's former writing partner, Claire (Constance Zimmer), wants to lure her back to the cutthroat world of TV with an irresistible opportunity -- a meeting with Oprah herself. But what about Lori's commitments to her eldest kid's preschool fundraiser? Eileen Galindo is underused as Lori's uncomprehending temp nanny. Andrea Bendewald is magnificent as alpha mom Jane, especially when she unleashes her vicious tongue, completely annihilating Scarlett (Nicole Paggi), the needy Southern mom who is trying so hard to be Jewish ("Holla for challa!"). But Jane gets her comeuppance, courtesy of Claire, a fearless non-mom. This play is full of squabbly little victories, some distasteful, some victorious. It concludes abruptly on a cliffhanger, but by then Kumble has well and truly made his point. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 7, (800) 595-4849, tix.com. Lee Strasberg Institute, Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..
GO GLORY DAYS The thing about the Golden Age of one's life is that when it's happening you think it will never change -- but somehow it always does, and rarely for the better. Composer Nick Blaemire and writer John Gardiner's unusually wise and energetic musical is all about the inevitability of growing up and how we frequently outgrow even our most valued friends. A year after high school graduation, four small town pals reunite on the local football field, intending to perform a silly prank at the next day's varsity game. Group ringleader Will (Derek Klena) is deeply nostalgic about his friendship with his old pals, all of whom remember him fondly but have moved on: Wisecracking cynic Skip (Alex Robert Holmes) is attending an Ivy League college, while strong, silent Jack (Ian Littleworth) appears to have lost his zest for the old pals. Only red-haired frat boy Andy (Matthew Koehler) seems to be interested in keeping the friendship going, and he's turning into a bit of a thug. Things take a turn when one of the pals makes an unexpected revelation that pretty much reduces the friendship to post-it-in-the-memory album status. Director Calvin Remsberg's brisk, vivid staging beautifully conveys the passion and vigor of youth -- and musical director James May's lively interpretation of Blaemire's sometimes haunting, sometimes ferocious rock musical score, artfully captures that moment when silly teenagers suddenly realize they're becoming somebody else. This is indeed the sort of show in which the four characters, archetype man-boys all, could easily have strayed into sentimental cliché, but the ensemble limn the sort of tautly defined, personality-rich figures whom you will swear you recall from your own high school days. Klena, a likable young actor, possesses a powerhouse voice and his belts, particularly in the opening and closing numbers, show great range and harmony. Nicely sensitive turns are also offered by Holmes's sardonic, but warm Skip (a Jughead surrogate if ever there was one), and by Littleworth, whose rendition of "Open Road," a song about a year spent wandering the country, is the show's evocative highlight. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24, (323) 960-7792, plays411.com/glorydays. Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, L.A..
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 May 1, thegoldengays.com. Meta Theater, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A..
GO GOODBYE, LOUIE . . . HELLO The late playwright Allan Manings was blacklisted and forced to move to Canada. There, he worked on a horse farm till 1961, when he was able to return to Hollywood and forge a successful career in television. So it's not surprising that he should focus on the doings of the House Un-American Activities Committee in this, his final play. Actor-comedian Louis Berns, née Bernstein (Alan Freeman), has reached retirement years, and spends his days with his children, son Scott (Paul Denniston) and bossy but loving daughter, Aimee (Maria Kress), and his lifelong friend and fellow comic, Benjy Gordon (Steve Franken), with whom he plays a daily gin rummy game. For much of Act 1, the play seems to be a gentle, funny Jewish character comedy. But when Scott's journalist friend David (Roy Vongtama) sets out to write a profile of Louie, his research reveals that Louie was called to testify before HUAC in 1951, and named his old friend Benjy, resulting in Benjy's being blacklisted and the destruction of his career. When this information is revealed, catastrophe results. John Gallogly directs a fine cast in a richly nuanced production, with wonderful performances by Freeman and Franken as the two old actors. (Neal Weaver). theatrewest.org Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 8. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A., (323) 851-7977, theatrewest.org.
GO GROUNDLINGS SINGLES CRUISE A cast of master improv artists reliably fall into three categories: "inspired" -- in which all the right notes of exaggeration, situation and universal recognition ignite an uncontrolled chain reaction of belly laughs; "merely great" -- in which an incisive caricature carries the potential for critical comedy frisson but melts down before the finish; and "back to the workshop" -- or not recommended for public viewing at this time. Fortunately, this edition racks up enough of the first and so few of the last that it warrants a medical warning for laugh-induced abdominal cramps. At the top of the heap are the pieces that bear the writing credits of Andrew Friedman, Michael Naughton or Mitch Silpa. In "Honeymoon," Friedman and Silpa's irritating preteen ghost twins, Kevin and Kyle, hilariously connect the horrors of The Shining to the hauntings of Eros-deflating parenting. With "Q&A," Naughton and Friedman expertly excoriate the absurd insipidity of play readings and those who attend them. "The Terrys" features Jillian Bell and Silpa striking satiric pay dirt in the surreal fashion faux pas and entertainment non sequiturs perpetrated by TV comedy variety shows of the early '70s. Charlotte Newhouse, Lisa Schurga, Jill Matson-Sachoff and Edi Patterson all shine in respective leaps into the perverse depths of depraved feminine grotesquerie. And director Mikey Day keeps it all moving at a comedy-conducive clip ... not counting the tediously long scene blackouts, when audiences must bide their time with the tasty licks of musical director Willie Etra and his jam-seasoned band. (Bill Raden). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through April 23. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 934-9700, groundlings.com.
HAMLET Shakespeare's tragedy set in modern times, presented by Player King Productions. Mondays, Tuesdays, Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through May 10, (310) 909-8629, brownpapertickets.com/event/166103. Belle Varado Studios/Stage 22, 2107 Bellevue Ave., L.A..
HELL MONEY To attend Ruth McKee's comedy of young, unglamorous poverty, you take an elevator up six floors to a small, one-room loft that places you squarely in the apartment of Katie (Elia Saldana) and Julie (Jennifer Chang). Well, sort of small ― it's the "Friends-style version that's more than the ten by ten they could afford," cautions the company's rep during a pre-show announcement. The girls, 19 and freshly out of the foster care system, are so broke they live on ketchup and ramen, but they've got big dreams ― at least Julie does ― of graduating college and defying their low expectations. McKee flirts with deeper emotions, like Julie's fear of abandonment and distrust of men ― when she pulls a knife on their neighbor Norman (Ewan Chung) and warns the beautiful, brainless Katie against dating, we sense the pain in her past. But the comedy, directed by Jen Bloom, is all shriek and little substance, a loud melodrama, with an edge of menace from Burt Mosely's turn as a Nigerian drug dealer who put Katie through basic training as a hospital orderly so she could steal him pills. There's a sneaking suspicion that Saldana is a deft comedian, but there's so much shouting that it's hard to tell. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 24, chalkrep.com. Agenda Loft, 400 South Main Street, Studio 601, L.A., (213) 626-0071, agendaloft.com.
HIDDEN IN THIS PICTURE Aaron Sorkin's movie-making comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through May 15, plays411.com/hidden. Renegade Theatre (formerly the Actor's Playpen), 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A., (323) 874-1733, www.theactorsplaypen.com/.
HITCHCOCKED Improv inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, directed by Patrick Bristow. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 7, (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/hitchcocked. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, L.A., theatreasylum-la.com.
A HOUSE NOT MEANT TO STAND 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. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 22, $25-$35; $18 students. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., L.A., (323) 663-1525, fountaintheatre.com.
THE HUMAN VOICE The old Tin Pan Alley tune "Hello! Ma Baby" (more recently popularized by the singing frog in the Warner Bros. cartoons) might be an appropriate score for this 1930 Jean Cocteau play in which an unnamed Woman feels trapped in a room with a telephone that is a lifeline to her physically and emotionally distant lover. Adding to the Woman's slow devolution is a shoddy connection that both drops her call multiple times and crosses wires with other conversations. Lady Gaga, she is not. She wants her lover on that telephone. She needs him on that telephone. Badly. Yet what Cocteau wrote as an exploration of the human voice (as well as a showcase for the divas of his day) here at times sounds more like an extended Verizon commercial. "Can you hear me now?" Yes, but what are you saying and why should we be invested in it? Speaking in a typewriter staccato and landing on her words with labored deliberateness, actress Ho-Jung has a hard time consistently demonstrating the heightened emotion necessary to bring the piece to life. Director Dan Bonnell perhaps errs too far on the side of subtlety, failing to elicit that desperation from her. At the same time, Anthony Wood's translation may be partially responsible for trite expressions of love torn asunder, which undermine the depths of sorrow in Cocteau's original. At least set designer Melissa Ficociello's room nearly collapsing on itself -- with its sea-foam-blue walls, which resemble dirty clouds -- is a clever nod to both period hues and the Woman's situation. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 24, (323) 960-7863, plays411.com/humanvoice. Elephant Space Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., elephantstages.com.
I GET KNOCKED DOWN . . . When writer-performer Evan McNamara first appears in this one-man show, he's wearing a T-shirt that reads "ARISE" and pointy elf ears. He is, he tells us, a member of an elf clan, and his sister, Raven, is a vampire who for years drained him of vitality. He then assumes the role of a Guardian Angel who revels in his own self-esteem. "God loves me," he claims, "because I make heaven look so cool." The elf tells about the woman he loved, hard-hearted Hannah, who married him and bore him two children, but then announced she'd been unfaithful from the start. We then meet Evan's other suffering alter egos: a prisoner shackled till he frees himself through an act of will, a martyr who embraces his pain, a scholar who alternates between raging against his fate and philosophic acceptance, a clown who wraps himself in a cloak of protective humor, and a hipster in stylish shades who doesn't contribute much to the story. McNamara is an appealing and energetic actor, but his bromidic ending is announced (self-knowledge is the key) rather than dramatized, so the show, though pleasant, seems both short (40 minutes) and slight. Director John Coppola might have been wise to insist on more substance. (Neal Weaver). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24, igetknockeddown.eventbrite.com. Studio C Artists, 6448 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 988-1175.NEW REVIEW GO I NEVER SANG FOR MY FATHER
Photo by Daniel G. Lam
If the aim of naturalism in theater is the pitch perfect rendering of reality, then Cameron Watson's urbane staging of Robert Anderson's 1968 drama scores. It revolves around an aging, ailing and cantankerous egotist named Tom (Philip Baker Hall) and Tom's beleaguered son, Gene (John Sloan). A widowed college professor, the soft-spoken Gene has always sought his father's love but has never received it. With Tom now battling dementia, Gene struggles between a mix of duty and a desperate need to bond, and his equally strong desire to establish a new life for himself in California, 3,000 miles away. Constructed as a memory play, Anderson's highly personal work sometimes teeters on the edge of melodrama but ultimately transcends its suburban WASP milieu and mid-20th century perspective with its themes involving fathers and sons, family and self. Hall, a performer whose intense dynamic can barely be contained within the production's small venue, dominates the stage, barking at those around him like the fierce and wounded human animal Tom has become. Sloan performs impeccably in the less flashier role of the tongue-biting adult that Gene is laboring to be; so does Anne Gee Byrd as Tom's gracious, long suffering wife. As sister Alice, banished from the family for marrying a Jew, the terrific Dee Ann Newkirk metamorphoses from a tight-lipped secondary character into the plot's fiery catalyst. The various shifts in time and place are effectively accommodated by designer John Iacovelli's spare set, with its transparent scrim elaborated on by projection designer Christopher M. Allison color-imbued drawings. The New American Theatre at the McCadden Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hlywd.; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru May 22. (310) 701-0788. NewAmericanTheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
IN THE AGES OF THE EARTH A new performance by Mary Lynn Rajskub. Fridays, 11:30 p.m. Continues through April 30. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., L.A., (323) 851-2603, workingstage.com.
JUST IMAGINE Tim Piper's John Lennon impersonation, including performances of Beatles hits and Lennon's solo work. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29, (323) 960-4442. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., www.thehayworth.com.
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.
GO LA RAZON BLINDADA (THE ARMORED REASON) How does a prisoner survive without hope? Writer/director Aristides Vargas drew inspiration for this poignantly horrific black comedy from the experience of his brother, a political prisoner in Argentina during that country's military dictatorship. Confined in solitary, prisoners were permitted a brief respite on Sunday, when they could meet and talk, albeit while remaining seated and with their hands on the table. That setup provides the physical framework for this luminously surreal 80-minute one-act in which two incarcerated men come together to role-play -- one calling himself De La Mancha (Jesus Castanos Chima), the other Panza (Arturo Diaz de Sandy). 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 April 30. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A., (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.org.
L.A. VIEWS IV Short Play Festival: Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 1. Company of Angels Theater, 501 S. Spring St., L.A., (323) 883-1717.NEW REVIEW LUST 'N RUST These days, stories of plant closures as a result of corporate downsizing or outsourcing have become all too common in the news. Frank Haney, Carol Kimball and Dave Stratton choose to explore this economic phenomenon musically. In their piece, New Jersey executive Steve (Sal Cecere) is posted to Southern Illinois to manage a plant for Agribig. Believing the move to be temporary, Steve rents a trailer in the Redbud Mobile Estates, where he falls for Connie (Joyanna Crouse), who has just split up with husband Duane (Derek Long). Also populating the trailer park are the comic duo of Buzz (Josh Evans) and Junior (Scott Dean), Buzz's lascivious wife Tanya (Terra Taylor), social chair and gossip hub Red (Ward Edmondson), sassy beautician Latisha (Becky Birdsong), and general oddball Janette (Leann Donovan). Though the show's premise accurately reflects the zeitgeist, it suffers from one-dimensional characters, painfully presentational dialogue, and contrived turns of events that sap the story of genuine drama. The music is pleasant with some nice harmonies, but the lyrics are often undercut by off-kilter rhyme schemes and too many syllables per beat. Director Thomas Colby curiously lines up his actors to face the audience whenever a song is about to start, turning musical theatre into country cabaret. Allan Jensen's "wood and hinges" motif plays well on a sign-festooned set that's both versatile and authentically detailed, but overall the show is too broadly drawn to take seriously as drama and too obvious to be consistently entertaining as comedy. The Lyric Theater, 520 N. La Brea Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru April 30. (626) 695-8383. brownpapertickets.com/event/144372 (Mayank Keshaviah)
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.
MASSACRE (SING TO YOUR CHILDREN) At the start of Jose Rivera's mystical melodrama, the room goes black for 60 seconds of offstage screaming. Like the play that follows, it's a bold idea that can't resist going deadeningly over the top. Seven murderers -- four men, three women -- tumble into the room, covered in blood, clutching machetes and crowbars and pipes and knives, and vibrating with the rush of killing Joe, the tyrant who has spent five years terrorizing their small American town. But their chest bumps and self-congratulations quickly fade into the quiet fear of realizing that, sans scapegoat, they now have to think for themselves -- and worse, take ownership over whatever miseries befall them. (Surely they can't be any worse than Joe, who has raped the women, killed the children and slashed the population by a third.) This is a heightened world staged too casually by Richard Martinez, who plunks this gory metaphor in a suburban rec room and encourages his cast to pivot from slang to grand speechifying. It's as though the play and this production are so concerned with the big strokes that all the details are scrambled: The characters are inconsistent and their relationships murky. Minutes after one growls to another that they don't know each other and should keep it that way, a cheery five-year flashback to before the Reign of Joe makes the gang look as tight as the cast of Friends. And it's worth noting that only the men get the good speeches -- while they recant their painful stories, the ladies just give them massages. Underlying it all is: How culpable are we in our own captivity? Rivera burns with the need to demand an answer but douses his own flames. (Amy Nicholson). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15, (323) 369-0571, urbantheatremovement.com. Underground Theatre, 1312-1314 N. Wilton Place, L.A..
NEW REVIEW MAXWELL STREET
Photo by Jerry Katell
By virtue of its setting--Chicago's South Side during the postwar blues music boom --Willard Manus' new play should brim with second-to-none music. Instead, the entire show plays out like a giant missed opportunity, a sloppily penned love letter to an erstwhile blues scene that included Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Memphis Minnie. Everything from the simplistic script to botched lighting cues to under-rehearsed, unsure actors lacking strong singing skills makes the production feel painfully amateurish. Snooks Lawson (Tony Davis) is an aging bluesman who decides to give the business one last shot. Teaming up with a young, white harmonica player, Irwin Weisfeld (Greg Guardino), Snooks forms a band in which he is the only black member. Keeping his eye on the evil Lance Lennox (Jerry Katell), an A&R man who has burned Snooks in the past, Snooks makes great music but is accused of being a sellout to the white crowd. The predictable plot involves battles with drug addiction and alcohol abuse, race wars, and misunderstandings that threaten to break up the band. Though there are a host of one-note performances (Davis plays a full on caricature throughout, cackling and bemoaning life's cruelties without a genuine human emotion in sight), the show's most frustrating aspect stems from what remains unseen and unheard: great music. In its stead are clichéd lines about overcoming obstacles, compounded by the missed emotional connections between the characters. Immediately following the band's off-stage appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, Lennox congratulates them for blowing Bob Dylan out of the water. From the small bits of singing sans instruments we see on stage, this piece of praise seems preposterous. Cake Theatre at Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, 4305 Degnan Blvd., Ste. 101, L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., noon; thru May 1. (310) 330-0178. (by Amy Lyons)THE MERCY SEAT Neil LaBute, a writer renowned for his lacerating portraits of narcissistic cads and the arrested adolescent within, doesn't exactly spring to mind when one speaks of a "9/11 play." So it comes as something of a relief that this 2002 drama set in lower Manhattan on the day after the terrorist attacks is less concerned with collapsing office towers than it is with the imploding illusions of its feuding pair of illicit lovers. In fact, the only disaster in sight turns out to be of the emotional kind. The curtain opens on Ben (Johnny Clark), a husband and father so paralyzed by callow self-pity and passive-aggressive guilt that he is unable to answer his incessantly ringing cell phone or move from his armchair for nearly the entire play. Turns out that he was only spared from dying in the conflagration because he skipped a meeting at Ground Zero for an early-morning assignation with his boss and mistress, Abby (Michelle Clunie), at her luxury loft. When Ben compounds his callous indifference to the loss of life outside by cynically seizing on his own presumed death in a scheme to abandon his family and run off with her, Abby is finally jolted into a belated reappraisal of their three-year affair. Clunie all but steals the show with an artfully nuanced performance that galvanizes Abby's tough exterior with affecting currents of wounded vulnerability and frustrated yearning. Unfortunately, with the exception of exhilarating flourishes provided by Derrick McDaniel's poetic lights, director Ron Klier's staging is so weighted down by Danny Cistone's distractingly overelaborate and hyperrealistic set that the production rarely achieves LaBute's intended metaphoric lift. (Bill Raden). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 24. [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A., (323) 461-3673, fordtheatres.org.
THE MOTOR TRADE Alex Morris and Dan Martin star in Norm Foster's "black comedy." Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., (323) 422-6361, theatretheater.net.
GO THE NEXT FAIRY TALE Writer-composer Brian Pugach uses a fractured fairy tale to deliver a message of tolerance and acceptance. Four Fairy Godmothers assemble, under the direction of their den mother/director Minerva (a formidable Gina Torrecilla), to create a new fairy tale. The Magic Mirror (campy and flouncy Charls Sedgwick Hall) announces that the hero of the new tale is to be Prince Copernicus (sweetly sappy Christopher Maikish), who doesn't believe in fighting: His weapons are smiles and hugs. When homophobic Minerva learns that Copernicus' true love is another male, Prince Helio (Patrick Gomez), she's appalled and determined to foil their match, lest the world's children be corrupted by a gay fairy tale. She assigns him Hazel (Rachel Genevieve), the most incompetent of the fairy godmothers, to ensure his failure and employs magic spells (including a poisoned apple) to stop him. Director Michael A. Shepperd stages Pugach's goofy musical with an engaging faux naivete, ably assisted by a lively ensemble and richly enhanced by Raffel Sarabia's whimsical fairy-tale costumes. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 8. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com.
ORINOCO Bilingual Actors Repertory Theater Company presents Emilio Carballido's comedy. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30, (323) 401-5139 or (323) 462-6203, bartcousa.com. Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Pl., L.A..
PLAY DATES Sam Wolfson's offbeat love story. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 1, (323) 960-7784, plays411.com/playdates. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A..
GO POINT BREAK LIVE Jaime Keeling's merciless skewering of the 1991 hyper-action flick starring Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey is loaded with laughs, as well as surprises, like picking an audience member to play Reeves' role of Special Agent Johnny Utah. It's damn good fun, cleverly staged by directors Eve Hars, Thomas Blake and George Spielvogel. (LE3). Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., thedragonfly.com.
POSTMODERN FAMILY Sketch comedy by Rob Belushi, Andy Cobb, Celeste Pechous, David Pompeii and Katie Neff. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 24. Second City Studio Theater, 6560 Hollywood Blvd., Second Floor, L.A., (323) 464-8542.
QUICK AND IN MY ARMS/ ENDLESS NIGHT Two plays by Peter Roth, presented by Fresh Baked Theatre Company. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30, brownpapertickets.com. MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A., (323) 957-1152, theMETtheatre.com.
GO RE-ANIMATOR, THE MUSICAL is based on Stuart Gordon's 1985 film, and Gordon is on hand to direct the new musical. The centerpiece is a love story (of course) that's a joke on every love story ever written. Idealistic young hospital intern Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna) has a poor time accepting the death of patients. Standing by a gurney, over the body of a woman who has flatlined, Dan administers CPR in vain, prodding her with electro pads, until the chorus of medics has to sing, "She's dead, Dan/Get it through your head, Dan." His distress over the cessation of life becomes an obsession that threatens his impending marriage to beautiful Meg Halsey (Rachel Avery), daughter of the local university's dean (George Wendt). Big Dean Halsey is an amiable, conservative fellow who's accepting of Dan as a potential son-in-law, despite his lack of old-money social credentials. Well, amiable until he's accidentally murdered, as he later interrupts a gooey romantic interlude between Meg and Dan by crashing through the door as a psychotic zombie. The romance is wrapped around a conflict between dueling scientists: self-proclaimed plagiarist Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin, in a mop wig, whose pinched facial expressions would creep out the most openhearted social worker) and a newcomer to Hill's lab, Herbert West (Graham Skipper, possessing the salty charm -- and costume -- of an embittered undertaker). While Hill drools over Meg, West rents a room from Dan (since Meg won't move in until they're wed). When the romantic couple's pet cat disappears, then ghoulishly reappears post-mortem via West's experiments (props by Jeff Rack), Dan enters a Faust-like partnership with West, seeing the potential fulfillment of his God-defying desire to harness the science of immortality. Mark Nutter's music and very witty lyrics (recalling songs by Tom Lehrer) careen from modern opera to light opera, from melodramatic wailing to -- when the story gets really gruesome -- Gilbert and Sullivanstyle patter songs. The special effects (by Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin and Greg McDougall), such as a body decapitated with a shovel and intestines unstrung from a corpse, are about as good as it gets -- gory without being so naturalistic as to bypass parody. The keys to this kingdom, however, are the combination of the brilliant comic ensemble and Gordon's pristine craftsmanship as a director, supplemented by Jeff Ravitz's lighting and musical director/arranger Peter Adams' building of suspense. Adams performs the score on a synthesizer tucked into the side of the hall, creating the slightly cheesy ambiance that's the life force of Grand Guignol. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 29, (800) 595-4849. Steve Allen Theater, at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., L.A..
RENT Jonathan Larson's Tony Award-winner about the lives of idealistic starving artists, living in the squalor of Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, is much better suited for presentation in a small theater than one of those cavernous Broadway houses. A more intimate venue, like the comparatively modest Hudson Backstage theater that director Jerianne Banson uses in her otherwise uneven production, allows the audience to better connect with the characters and the music. Banson's intermittently chaotic staging crackles with the very, vital passion of youth. Some of the show, however, is an exercise in what happens when a great deal of enthusiasm collides with a lack of leavening experience. Larson's musical concerns a group of Hell's Kitchen bohemians, residing either on the means streets or in a filthy cold loft, who try to make ends meet while staying faithful to their beloved art. Young filmmaker Mark (Anthony Michael Knott) finds himself in a bizarre love triangle when his girlfriend leaves him for another woman - while Mark's aspiring songwriter roommate Roger (Matt Pick) falls for beautiful, but unwell stripper Mimi (Dominique Cox). Apart from the show's most obvious question -- how do these kids afford wraparound head microphones, but not hot water -- the strength of director Banson's production is totally connected to the vivacity of her youthful cast and their unabashed love for the material. On the other hand, Shoshona Zisk's musical direction frequently falters: Although some of the songs are powerful -- particularly Pick and Cox's meet-cute number "Light My Candle," many of the other numbers suffer from maladroit execution and weak harmonics. Notwithstanding the performers' omnipresent mics, the band frequently upstages the singing, drowning out the performers, who are forced to sing-holler louder to compensate. The show is double cast. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 23, (323) 960-7822, plays411.com/rent. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., hudsontheatre.com.
RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS WITH BILLY HAYES The author of Midnight Express, who was held captive in a Turkish prison for five years, retells the story in own words. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 12, (323) 960-4442, plays411.com. Hayworth, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., thehayworth.com.
SERIAL KILLERS Late-night serialized stories, voted on by the audience to determine which ones continue. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 23. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., (310) 281-8337, sacredfools.org.
SEX, RELATIONSHIPS AND SOMETIMES . . . LOVE Monologues on all of the above, by Joelle Arqueros. Thursdays, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m. Continues through May 12, (323) 769-5566. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., www.complexhollywood.com.
SHOE STORY Ben Snyder's look at the dark side of New York shoe culture in the 1980s, where a new pair of sneakers could cost you your life. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 22. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A., (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com.
SLOW CHILDREN CROSSING Six weeks of "inappropriate humor," courtesy the sketch-comedy troupe. Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through May 15. King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., (323) 960-9234, kingkinghollywood.com.
GO SMALL ENGINE REPAIR Laced with casual expletives, John Pollono's one-act play packs a powerful punch. When a trio of longtime mates from Manchester, New Hampshire get together for some heavy drinking in Frank's car mechanic workshop ― David Mauer's beautifully realized set ― they reminisce about old times and chat about women, the internet and the virtues of social networking. The pals, confident Frank (John Pollono), ladies man Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and nervy guy Packie (Michael Redfield) indulge in trading insults and mocking digs as they chew the fat. Inappropriate comments, harsh words and hasty apologies are exchanged, but nobody's sure why Frank is busting out the good whiskey. A young college kid (Josh Helman) arrives to do a quiet drug deal with Frank and all of a sudden the scene erupts into terrifying violence. Pollono's script is an exquisitely-modulated gem of a play, gripping the viewer with a storyline that is both shocking and sobering in its commentary on modern interactions in the technological age. Director Andrew Block extracts such realistic performances from his cast that we almost forget we are watching a play, as the appalling action unfolds mere inches away. (Pauline Adamek). Mondays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 30, (323) 960-4424, roguemachinetheatre.com. Theatre/Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., L.A., theatretheater.net.
SOME SWEET DAY Billed as "a love triangle between two people," Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus' romantic comedy Some Sweet Day is actually a tale about a middle-aged guy who goes back in time. Ken (Flip Kobler) still holds a torch for his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Kate McCoy), who suffered an untimely death. Having spent twenty years perfecting a portable time machine, Ken gets struck by lightning and catapulted back to his past. Once there he tries to convince Casey (Nicaolas Smith), the younger version of himself, not to let the girl of his dreams get away. The premise is good and co-writer Marcus, who also directs, does well with the casting, as the two actors playing Ken/Casey are dead ringers. But Marcus stumbles with the tone of the play, which strives for farcical heights but instead suffers from wildly broad acting and shouting delivery. The rapid-fire repartee feels contrived and the jokes are pedestrian, with exchanges such as "Mom, you are not psychic!" "I knew you were going to say that." Even the sight gags are leaden. McCoy, however, shines as the sexy and vivacious Jenny, who's certainly deserving of a trip back to yesteryear. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through April 24. Knightsbridge Theater, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A., (323) 667-0955, knightsbridgetheatre.com.
NEW REVIEW THE SPECTACULAR SUPERHERO VARIETY HOUR!
Photo by Tris Beezley Photography
As the show's emcee (and director) Ben Dickow comments, "Part of why these sketches are all DC Comics is because Marvel's are so good, it's hard to make fun of them." Indeed, the vaudeville-inspired Captured Aural Phantasy Theater's latest production, pokes at the unintentional bloopers and goofiness of the Golden Age comics, and the potential to throw a rollickin' good show is sensed in the company. But this particular outing feels as half-baked as the Hippie scene in the skit in which the Teen Titans stumble upon a marijuana smoking "mystic." Some of that blame is due to feeling their way around a new space -- the company, having completed a two-year residency in downtown's creepy-cool Alexandria Hotel, debuted its show last Friday at Bootleg. Unfortunately, albeit kind of fittingly, a nearby Latino gospel radio program bled into Captured Aural's sound until midway through the evening. The constant crackling of spirited preaching seemed to throw the company off as well as distract the audience. Though the structure of the program, a mix of stories, songs, and general silliness, is tight and true to its "variety" tag, the cast couldn't seem to find its stride, and laughs were fewer than there could've been. They finally began to regain their footing with the last, and funniest, sketch of the night, "The Joker's Comedy of Errors," a real comic who would be at home among Saturday Night Live's "The Ambiguously Gay Duo" cartoons; but this superhero showed up a little too late to save the day. Captured Aural Phantasy Theater at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd. L.A.; Fri., 7:30 p.m.; thru April 22. bootlegtheater.com. (Rebecca Haithcoat)STANDING ON CEREMONY The Gay Marriage Plays: Written by Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Hatcher, Moises Kaufman, Neil Labute, Wendy Mcleod, Kathy Najimy, Jose Rivera, Paul Rudnick and Doug Wright, conceived and directed by Brian Shnipper. Mon., April 25, 8 p.m.; Mon., May 9, 8 p.m.; Mon., May 23, 8 p.m.; Mon., June 6, 8 p.m.; Mon., June 20, 8 p.m., StandingOnCeremony.net. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 855-0350, largo-la.com.
GO STREEP TEASE If you're a fan of Meryl Streep you'll like director Ezra Weisz's campy homage to the academy award winning actress. The show debuted two years ago and is the brainchild of stand-up comedian Roy Cruz, who has added a few tweaks without altering any of its ticklish appeal. The show uses seven male actors who perform monologues from a sampling of Streep's oeuvre.. This reviewer is a big fan and has seen all of the movies selected (which helps in appreciating the saucy humor on display), although even if you're not familiar with Streep's work, Streep Tease offers lot of fun and laughs. In addition to the performances, Cruz picks audience members to participate in a contest to test their "Streep Wise," worthiness, with a gift going to the winner. Matthew Nouriel, does a riotously funny take on Sara Woodruff, from the French Lieutenant's Woman (complete with the foggy backdrop), and then does an even funnier version set in a Muslim country with all the customary restraints. Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada is brought to life by Cruz, who does a wickedly bitchy turn salted with just the right tinge of icy detachment. And who could forget the nun from hell, the bossy, fussy bullying Sister Aloysius Beauvier from Doubt, here fully realized with knuckle-busting ruler, two rosaries and bonnet, by Bryan T. Donovan. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 p.m. Bang, 457 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 653-6886, bangstudio.com.
SUPER SUNDAY Stephen Collins' comedy about a Vietnam vet turned ad executive whose wife takes an interest in a younger man. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Continues through May 15. Moth Theatre, 4359 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 666-6684, moththeatre.com.
NEW REVIEW GO THE TEMPERAMENTALS
Photo by Greg Gorman
term NHI was a code-word used by Los Angeles police in their case files
in the 1950s. It stood for NO HUMANS INVOLVED, and referred to any
cases involving homosexuals, African-Americans, Latinos, or other
minorities the cops considered undesirable. In those days of virulent
homophobia and institutionalized repression, gay activist Harry Hay
(Dennis Christopher), designer and Viennese refugee Rudi Gernreich
(Erich Bergen), and their friends, Chuck Rowland (Mark Shunock), and Bob
Hull (John Tartaglia) organized the Mattachine Society, the first gay
rights organization in the U.S. They referred to themselves as
"Temperamentals"--a code-word for gays. They also embraced the cause of
Dale Jennings (Patrick Scott Lewis), the defendant in the first legal
case to successfully challenge the LAPD's entrapment policies. They were
a colorful crew: Hay was married for 11 years, and fathered two
children before coming out. As a former communist, he was summoned to
testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and in his
later years he founded the Radical Faeries. Playwright Jon Marans
employs theatrical short-hand and presentational style to tell a
wide-ranging, complex tale, and director Michael Matthews gives it a
lively staging, assisted by an able and engaging cast. Blank Theatre
Company at The 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.;
Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.; thru May 22. (323) 661-9827 or TheBlank.com (Neal Weaver)
WOMEN ARE CRAZY BECAUSE MEN ARE ASSHOLES World premiere of Brad T. Gottfred's study of the sexes. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through April 30, (323) 244-2987, cyur.com. Imagined Life, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., L.A.
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS
ALL IN THE TIMING A collection of comic one acts by David Ives. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 1, 3 p.m. Continues through May 1. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, (818) 745-8527, nohoartsdistrict.com/theatreweb/crowncity.htm.
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, lizardtheater.com.
GO THE BIRTHDAY BOYS Stop me if you've heard this one: Three U.S. Marines walk into an Iraqi storage room. OK, they don't walk. They get dragged into it. Point being, there are three of them, and they're together in this room. "Seems a bit dark and serious a scenario for a punch line," you think to yourself, but you would be wrong, because Aaron Kozak, who won the "Fringe First" award at last year's Hollywood Fringe Festival for this play, makes it much funnier than you would expect. Without being disrespectful to the gravity of military service or the war in Iraq, Kozak finds dark humor in the humanity of three Marines --privates Chester Gullette (Gregory Crafts), Lance Tyler (Sean Fitzgerald) and Colin Carney (Jim Martyka) -- who have been captured from Al Asad air base by members of the Mahdi Militia. All three are bound hand and foot with duct tape and blindfolded, which limits their interactions but generates some solid physical comedy, such as when Lance tries to fight Colin and they end up writhing around like angry inchworms. Director Jacob Smith's spot-on timing effectively modulates transitions from lighter discussions of women and home lives to darker topics such as war and impending doom. Fitzgerald, as the most intense and combative of the three, genuinely makes us dislike him at times; Martyka, though quiet for long spells, believably exudes shame for attempting to abandon his brothers; Crafts, as the most mature and levelheaded of the men, pleasantly subverts the stereotypical Marine. And to top it all off, there's an unexpected twist that takes the comedy to a whole new level. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 30, (818) 849-4039, theatreunleashed.com. NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, noho-stages.us.
BLIND SPOTS Sibling rivalry and one-upmanship reach sinister heights when two sisters with diametrically opposed beliefs clash in Colette Freedman's patchy black comedy. The setting is a small, East Coast university town. Gretchen (Vanessa Waters), a gay journalist, becomes incensed and decides to publish an editorial damning the anti-gay decrees from the liberal-arts college president. Problem is, this president is her abusive, homophobic older sister Kate (director Elise Robertson). Gretchen's act of public humiliation ignites an all-out war between the sisters as the pair dredge up recriminations, accusations and even threaten blackmail. Meanwhile Gretchen's cute and sporty young lover Janna (Jade Sealey) is unaware she might get hit by some shrapnel. Playwright Freedman co-stars as Gretchen's BFF Frieda, giving us a hilarious drunk act and some deliciously bitchy put-downs. Freedman punctuates the often inane banter and heated arguments with plaintive 1960s folk tunes by Cat Stevens and Jesse Colin Young, performed live by Logan Lozier (doubling as the sisters' tragically departed brother). Placing Lozier upstage center, on a raised platform, lends him an angelic presence. Freedman's play features powerful themes and quirky characters (notably the Afro-centric wacky mom Birdy, played by Helen Mary Wilson), but the writing isn't nearly as strong as her ideas. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 24, (818) 381-3024, blindspotsplay.com. Sherry Theatre, 11052 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
GO THE CRUCIBLE Director Sean Branney grabs hold of Arthur Miller's red-scare allegory, wringing emotionally charged, angst-ridden performances from the talented cast. Young Abigail Williams (a brilliantly conniving Sarah van der Pol) and her gaggle of naive girlfriends extricate themselves from an oceanic amount of hot water by explaining their late-night woodsy romp with Barbadian servant Tituba (Hollie Hunt) as a ritual in which Tituba conjured the devil, whom they claim walked side by side with scores of local women. A witch hunt ensues and the girls point their adolescent fingers at any woman they want hanged. John Proctor (Shawn Savage), whose love affair with the conniving Abigail comes back to bite him, sets out to debunk the witchcraft accusations when his wife, Elizabeth (a steadfastly stony Karen Zumsteg), becomes Abigail's target. Branney masterfully creates chaos, pitting neighbor against neighbor, husband against wife and holy man against lawman in what amounts to a town battle of holy-war proportions. Van der Pol's Abigail is so full of vicious vengeance that she practically hisses her misguided intentions to win the affections of Savage's skillfully choked-up Proctor. Fear drives the outrageous events of the play, and Branney relentlessly shines light on the fatal foolishness of a fear-driven society. (Amy Lyons). Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 15, $20, $15 students & seniors. The Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, (818) 846-5323, theatrebanshee.org.
ELIZABETH BATHORY, THE BLOOD COUNTESS Writer/director Bea Egeto's hourlong historical account of the 16th-century serial killer Elizabeth Bathory takes the audience through a fun chronology of blood, lust and justice, but falls short of capturing the complexity of the subject. The Countess Bathory had an obsession with staying young, convincing herself that the blood of young maidens could sustain her youth. She and her small circle of cohorts began kidnapping girls and covering up their disappearances. Eventually enough people suspected her of wrongdoing that she was locked away, claiming her innocence right up until she died in prison, without trial. A large, fantastic cast and razor sharp staging keeps the pace moving, and both Charlotte Bjornbak's young Bathory and Leaha Boschen's storytelling-prisoner Bathory, tap into the historical countess' dangerous psychosis with aplomb. However, at the top of the play when Bathory, rotting in prison, implores us to listen to her side of the story, what follows is such a straightforward interpretation of events, when she finally asks us to judge her, we never really get a sense of why she feels so steadfastly innocent. (Luis Reyes). Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Continues through April 30. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.FETISH Bryan Rasmussen's staging of Dolores Ribakoff's series of comic vignettes about fetishistic sex between consenting adults makes almost no reach for ideas about why people act out erotically the way they do. Where's Jean Genet when you need him? Imagine an R-rated episode of 1970s TV show Love, American Style, as the style of both the titillation and the jokes pre-dates Sex and the City. But these characters are stupider -- often the point -- and there are some sweet nuggets. In a scene about two hetero couples wife-swapping, the disappointment on the face of Caroline Langford, eagerly awaiting the imagined magnitude of her appointed lover's member and then realizing its diminished reality, has the comedic punch of an old vaudeville routine. There is some nice play about illusions and delusions, expectations and disappointments. It's bravely acted and danced (choreography by Tania Pearson-Loeser), but it's domestic stuff. Let's just say its minuscule ambitions are fully realized -- as seen on TV. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Sat., 8 p.m.; thru April 30. (818) 990-2324. (Steven Leigh Morris)
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 May 27, (323) 822-7898, theatermania.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.
HAVING IT ALL At Gate B26 in an airport convincingly designed by Stephen Gifford, five women sit judging each other's clothing. The lady in Prada pumps (Jennifer Leigh Warren) assumes the woman in sneakers (Shannon Warne) must be an immature free spirit; the woman in sneakers is convinced that Prada pumps is a rotten mother. The entrance of a country girl in awkward heels (Kim Huber) provokes condescension; a hipster with crutches (Lindsey Alley) moves Warren to sneer she's a "30-year-old yenta dressed up like the cast of Rent." And when a dizzy hippie (the very funny Alet Taylor) bops in with her yoga mat, the ladies are aghast that she's barefoot. Still, between snipes, each looks at the others and sighs, "How I'd love to be in her shoes." The metaphor of footwear for femmepowerment is staler than the olives at Carrie Bradshaw's fave martini bar, but at least David Goldsmith and Wendy Perelman's well-intentioned musical about the hair-pulling pressure to "have it all" is blessed with a gifted cast, which Richard Israel directs with energy and bite. The ensemble sings numbers about motherhood, marriage, J-Date and downward-facing dog. It's all pleasant, but the show is held back by the homogeneity of the songs, in both John Kavanaugh's music and Gregory Nabours' musical direction, which takes five strong voices and molds them all to the same Broadway bombast. The audience for the musical already knows everything it aims to say; it's simply an excuse to rally a gang of girlfriends for a night at the theater, which seems to suit this production just fine. (Amy Nicholson). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29. NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 508-7101, thenohoartscenter.com.
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, tworoadsgallery.com.
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 slide show. 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 June 26, (310) 500-0680, neweyesplay.com. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.
THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE Neil Simon's rat-race comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29, (323) 960-7862, plays411.com/prisoner. GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank, gtc.org.
GO PURSUED BY HAPPINESS Sensible shoes and charmingly dorky delivery aside, Frank Orlis (Mark St. Amant) cuts a dashing figure during the courtship dance. "I have zero recollection of any day but the day at hand," he tells the object of his single-minded pursuit, fellow biochemist Julie Moore (Avery Clyde), while simultaneously informing her he's been watching her. The layup works, even if Frank couldn't be less of a Romeo; women, even stoic, serious ones like Julie, respond to feeling like they alone are worth remembering. Keith Huff's new play wriggles in these insights unobtrusively, even if the big-picture ideas ("We're not pursuing happiness as much as happiness is biologically pursuing us") are a little too obvious. But the play is a nice change of scenery from traditional rom-coms: The whirlwind romance is actually a practical plot, and the measured Frank and Julie don't ride off into a fairy-tale sunset. Family visits give the design team a chance to show off (Craig Siebels' set, Adam Flemming's projection, and Jocelyn Hublau's costumes) are so evocatively detailed, but they do feel a little device-y, and leave too many unanswered questions, including one that leaves the audience squirming as well. Still, agile in their double duty as both sets of parents, Elizabeth Herron and Tom Knickerbocker easily could've been Huff's sole motivation for writing the ultimately unsatisfying scenes. Robin Larsen directs. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 14, RoadTheatre.org. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 752-7568.
GO ROCKIN' WITH THE AGES 3 This is the third in a series of musical revues designed to give older performers a chance to prove they can still kick up their heels and shine: All (except the instrumental combo) are over sixty years of age, but they are all solid pros, with impressive resumes and a treasure trove of skills. The book, by director Bill Reid and musical director Mark Rodriguez, is totally predictable, but it's enlivened by the large ensemble's terrific performances, and by a wonderful array of golden oldies from the 1960s and 70s, including "My Guy," "Hit the Road, Jack," "Stop in the Name of Love," "I'll Be There," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "It's My Party, and I'll Cry if I Want To." The show's first two editions tended to be a bit old-fashioned and tinged with amateurism, but this time around, it's slicker, faster, and more consistently entertaining, and audiences respond with fervor and enthusiasm. Raquel Brussolo supplies the crisp choreography, and instrumental accompaniment is provided an energetic combo headed by Mark Rodriguez on keyboards, Ma'Ryia Mahome on bass, James Munoz on guitar, Leslie Pereira on drums, and Rene Van der Tas, second guitar. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 1, (818) 606-6679. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, 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). Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 22. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
URBAN DEATH Horror show by Zombie Joe's Underground. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through May 28. ZJU Theater Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
NEW REVIEW VERONIKA DECIDE TO DIE
Photo by Chelsea Sutton
Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho has enjoyed inordinate success -- he sold 65 million copies of The Alchemist and set the Guinness Record for the most-translated book by a living author. But on stage and screen, his stories founder. Both Warner Bros. and Harvey Weinstein have struggled to adapt The Alchemist and a $9 million version of his 1998 novel Veronika Decides to Die, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, has languished unreleased in America. This is not surprising - especially after watching Taylor Ashbrook and Beth Ricketson's nearly three-hour attempt to wrangle his book into submission. Ricketson plays the titular Veronika, a pretty Slovenian librarian who swallows a should-be fatal dose of sleeping pills out of boredom. Every day is the same, she sighs to her two doctors, both so casual and unprofessional, they should be disbarred. When they tell Veronika that her suicide attempt destroyed her heart and has left her with just five days to live, she spends days one and two trying to die faster, trolling for more pills when she could just do jumping jacks. Coelho is like Ken Kesey crossed with Deepak Chopra. Every line is a proclamation on sanity and civilization; the adaptors have been intimidated into thinking they need a 12-person ensemble and dozens of speeches about clocks and sexual deviants and the Book of Genesis to make a single point: Conformity is nuts. When Veronika has an emotional breakthrough, masturbating in front of a hunky schizophrenic (Jonathan Trent), she tells three characters about it in three separate, but equally pointless conversations. And at the end, there are flashbacks to lines people said just 15 minutes before. If Ashbrook's cast were stronger, the length would be less arduous, but the on-the-nose performances are exemplified in a scene where Ricketson bangs on a piano and screams, "I couldn't be what you wanted!" Ecclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru May 15. (818) 508-3003 eclecticcompanytheatre.org (Amy Nicholson)
WAIT UNTIL DARK When measured beside the sensational, blood-spattered
exploits of today's infamous offenders, Frank Knott's 1966 crime fable
about drugs and a home invasion seems terribly sedate That, in a word,
also sums up director David Colwell's revival. In the basement apartment
of Sam and Susy Hendrix (Bert Emmett, Liza de Weerd), Sam is approached
by a stranger to transport a doll for a sickly child. Unfortunately,
the doll contains heroin, and he has lost it, which has made some
hoodlums very unhappy. When Sam is forced to leave the city, Susy, who
is blind, is thrown into a high stakes game of survival when the
smugglers come calling for their merchandise. Most of the deceptively
simple plot is laid out in the opening minutes of the play, and as
presented here, they are frustratingly blurry. This play rises and falls
on the methodical ratcheting up of tension and suspense, both of which
are but faint glimmers under Colwell's bland direction. Even the finale,
which transpires in semi-darkness and should erupt with energy,
implodes. There are also problems with cast: Leo Weltman and Chris
Winfield, who portray the gangsters, project all the feral menace of a
department store Santa. Weltman comes across as an engaging buffoon much
of the time - which might have provided some comic relief were there
any danger on the stage to be relieved from. Robert Gallo, as Harry Roat
the ringleader, fares slightly better. As the blind girl, Weerd turns
in a perfectly credible performance. The Group Repertory/Lonny Chapman
Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd. N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.;
thru May 8. (818) 700-4878. thegrouprep.com (Lovell Estell III)
CONTINUING PERFORMANCES IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS
DADDYO DIES WELL Murray Mednick's poetic, philosophical comedy, the fifth in his series of eight Gary Plays, seems to take place in several spheres at once, ranging from the Amazonian jungle, to the Andes, to Santa Monica to the afterlife. Salty, aging hipster DaddyO (Hugh Dane) has been run down by a hit-and-run driver, and now he's dying. He summons his actor step-son Gary (Casey Sullivan) to participate in an Indian soul-cleansing ritual involving the hallucinogenic, vomit-inducing drug Ayahuasca. Also somehow present, physically or spiritually, are DaddyO's deceased wife, the ruefully benevolent Mama Bean (Strawn Bovee), his kindly-but-misanthropic shrink (Jack Kehler), and Gary's two ex-wives, Gloria (Elizabeth Greer), who is on a vision quest in the Andes, and the forbidding and judgmental Marcia (Melissa Paladino). Presiding over all is the angel of death, Antonio (Peggy Ann Blow), who appears as an ice-cream vendor in a red jump-suit, and as a masked Indian shaman. Mednick's play is always interesting as it circles, playfully and endlessly, around various life-and-death issues, but it's sometimes so personal as to be hermetic. Dane is engaging and funny as the play's most fully-developed character, and the cast skillfully fleshes out the other inhabitants of his drama. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 22, (323) 960-7724, plays411.com/DaddyO. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, electriclodge.org.
GO HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK The big-band show in this musical (book by Luca Ellis, Paul Litteral and Jeremy Aldridge) is staged as a behind-the-scenes live taping of a late-1960s television special with a star identified in the program only as "The Crooner." James Thompson's authentic set comes with sound booth, TV cameras, microphones, lighting, a spacious bandstand and stage, overhead video screens and neon applause signs. Adding to the realism is lots of backstage banter, numerous gaffes, miscues and retakes, and some well-placed comedy and drama played out between director Dwight (Al Bernstein) and his overworked and underappreciated assistant Andy (Pat Towne). There are also cheeky commercial breaks for Shmimex watches and the all-new Ford Mustang. Musical director Litteral and his nattily dressed 12-member band (Jessica Olson's costumes are entirely on cue) combine into a flawless, robust performance redolent of the best of Ellington or Basie. Luca Ellis is a knockout from start to finish as the Crooner. How good is he? If you close your eyes while he sings familiar tunes such as "That's Life," "New York, New York" and "Fly Me to the Moon," you'd swear the Chairman himself had come back for one last encore. As masterfully woven together by director Aldridge, the material is so good that the applause signs aren't really needed. (Lovell Estell III). Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 23. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK Sean O'Casey's tragicomedy about a working class Dublin family during the 1920s Irish Civil War. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 4, 8 p.m.; Sun., May 15, 7 p.m.; Wed., May 18, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., May 25, 8 p.m. Continues through June 5. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.
MOON OVER BUFFALO The Torrance Theatre Company presents Ken Ludwig's 1995 comedy. Fri., April 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 23, 2 & 8 p.m., (310) 781-7171. Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance.
MR. MARMADLADE Noah Haidle's story of a 4-year-old with an imaginary friend with a cocaine addiction. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 21. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (866) 811-4111, thegaragetheatre.org.
MUTANT OLIVE Katselas Theater Company presents Mitch Hara's one-man show. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through May 7. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills.
RETURN FROM THE ASHES Brad Geagley's adaptation of Hubert Monteilhet's novel about a woman impersonating a woman impersonating herself. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 24. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 364-0535, theatre40.org.
RUMORS Neil Simon's comedy about a suburban dinner and a dead body. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through May 8. Theater Palisades' Pierson Playhouse, 941 Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, (310) 454-1970.
TARTUFFE A few minutes into Jon Kellam's rendering of Molière's classic farce, you know you're not in for a routine production. There's the flowery, drawn-out introduction by Steven Porter, spoken in French with audio translation; the colorful mass of balloons heaped at center stage; and sound effects from the "noisy corner," courtesy of Jef Bek, who plays various percussion instruments and keyboard organ. All nice touches in this tale about a hypocritical scoundrel who by dint of pious pretense and subterfuge wreaks havoc on a respectable Frenchman and his family. However, Kellam has his sights on underscoring the work's timelessness via David Ball's breezy adaptation, which bestrides the author's 17th century, our own era and various points between. The effect is more of an imposition than an illumination. It's also interlarded with much that is digressive and not at all funny. The physical comedy is effectual -- to a point -- but it starts to wear especially thin in the languorous Act 2, along with Bek's seemingly endless potpourri of sound effects. Cast performances are lively and engaging, the one exception being a flat Pierre Adeli (who in all fairness was brought in a week earlier in place of the ailing Scott Harris), in the critical role of Tartuffe. Fully memorable are Ben Kahookele's gorgeous costumes, and Mary Eileen O'Donnell's smattering of props, which are cleverly designed and used. (Lovell Estell III). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 30. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (310) 838-4264, theactorsgang.com.
UNSCRIPTED REP Impro Theatre's improvised, full-length plays in the styles of William Shakespeare, Tennesee Williams, and Stephen Sondheim. Wednesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through May 29. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., (310) 477-2055, odysseytheatre.com.
THE VAGINA MONOLOUGES Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble presents Eve Ensler's pussy play. Mon., April 25, 8 p.m., latensemble.com. Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-3680.