Lolpera, 9 Circles, Pulp Shakespeare and More Theater Reviews...
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LOLPERA at Long Beach's Garage Theater is this week's Pick of the Week, with recommendations for a number of Southland performances, including Pulp Shakespeare at the Asylum Theatre,Henry Murray's Monkey Adored, presented by Rogue Machine, Virginia Grise's lyrical new play, blu, presented by Company of Angels at downtown's Alexandria Hotel; and Katherine Graf's Hermetically Sealed (Katselas Theatre Company at Los Feliz's Skylight Theatre).
This week's features includes an interview with four of Cirque du Soleil's acrobat-dancers in Iris, on their new residency in L.A.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS scheduled for publication October 27, 2011
PICK OF THE WEEK LOLPERA
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Loosely -- and I mean loosely -- stitching together a libretto from captions found on I Can Has Cheezburger, the wildly addictive website featuring (mostly) felines, silly poses and bad grammar, writers Ellen Warkentine and Andrew Pedroza have pulled off an epic win with giddily absurd rock opera LOLPERA. The year is 2084. Astro Cat (Michael Burdge) takes to the stars in an intergalactic quest for Cheezburger. Meanwhile, back home on Catcotopia, Precious Cat (Sayaka Miyatani) pines, Dreamer Cat (Andrew Pedroza) gets a job interview, the Internet is downloading evil and a walrus (Anthony Pedroza) loses his bucket. What nudges these proceedings beyond, say, Point Break Live! with a soundtrack is a smartly composed score and an underlying confidence in human intelligence. Referencing the likes of Mozart, The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Les Miz, The Matrix and Erwin Schrödinger, LOLPERA recasts this cutesy meme and its titular sandwich as vehicles for the universal quest for meaning and hug time. Director Jessica Variz and her large, entirely talented ensemble pack a lot of Broadway into the tiny Garage Theatre, with big voices, lively choreography and nary a throwaway performance. All this is artfully supported by designer Dicapria's immersive, whimsically dystopian set, featuring continuous projections of the original online inspirations. That the work is about 15 minutes too long and ultimately one notch too repetitive with its musical themes are minor quibbles. Garage Theatre, 251 E. Seventh St., Long Beach; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru Oct. 29. (866) 811-4111, thegaragetheatre.org (Mindy Farabee)
Magical realism meets the harsh realities of barrio life in Virginia Grise's lyrical play. A stoic Soledad (Romi Dias) raises her children Blu (Xavi Moreno), Gemini (Alexandra Jimenez) and Lunatico (Phillip Garcia) in a violent neighborhood based on Boyle Heights. Aptly bearing the name of the ruthless Mexican Mafia, Eme (an inspired Luis Galindo), the children's father, is a gangbanger doing prison time. Swearing off men, Soledad builds a stable home with her lover Hailstorm (Diana Delacruz), a woman whom the children, particularly the headstrong Blu, don't always accept. Seduced by a military recruiter's promise of entrée to a respected brotherhood, Blu swaps the war in the hood for the war in Iraq. There's an Ntozake Shange-like dance happening onstage throughout, a series of choreographic outbursts that gorgeously juxtapose the effrontery of oppressed young people and the Herculean effort it takes to dream beyond oppression. The actors grab hold of their characters with swagger and passion. Director Laurie Carlos brings precision and artful rhythm to the piece, and Rafa Esparza's set is a dreamy rooftop escape from the unsafe streets. Company of Angels has a mission of depicting the "80 percent of the Los Angeles area population that rarely sees itself on stage in Los Angeles." They hit that mark here and keep a skillful eye on dramaturgy (the dramaturg is Ricardo A. Bracho) in the process. Company of Angels at the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (323) 489-3703, companyofangels.org. (Amy Lyons)
GO HERMETICALLY SEALED
refers to the secret festering at the heart of this layered family drama -- one that isn't uncovered until near the very end. Startling (at least to me!) at its denouement, Katherine Graf's 90-minute one-act pivots around an overworked pastry chef named Tessie (Gigi Bermingham) and her two teenage sons: the recalcitrant Jimmy (understudy Jonathan Griffin Sterling in the performance I saw), and Conor (Nicholas Podany), a smart, likable kid addicted to video gaming but savvy and sensitive enough to respond when his stressed-out mom signals for help. Their household's already precarious equilibrium upends with the meddlesome intrusion of Tessie's loudmouthed, domineering employer, Dale Jr. (Julia Prud'homme), and her sleazeball husband (Brendan Patrick Connor). Despite some rough edges on opening night, director Joel Polis marshals a vital and accomplished ensemble, adding breadth to dialogue spilling over with chatter about lemon bars and mango tarts. Bermingham's harassed but devoted matriarch is the soul of the play while Podany, most impressive given his youth -- he's a local high school sophomore -- delivers a dynamic, in-depth performance. The spot-on Connor plays a creep with humanity. Designer Jeff McLaughlin's splendidly detailed set, replete even with running water, furnishes a faultless framework for this slice of kitchen sink realism. Katselas Theatre Company at the Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 20. (702) 582-8587, ktctickets.com. (Deborah Klugman)
In this comic solo show, writer-performer Brian Frazer examines the difference between hypochondriacs and hyper-chondriacs. The former imagine they're sick, while the latter are actually ill, and it makes them, like Frazer, hyper. He was already semi-obsessive, impatient, always in a hurry and prone to rage. When he developed a disturbing itching in his hands, he turned to a dermatologist, who informed him the problem was in his mind and prescribed Zoloft. The medication worked, and he felt blissfully peaceful -- until he began to fear developing immunity to the drug. That sent him on a hilarious, ever-expanding quest to find a panacea: He tried anger management, Kabbalah, yoga, acupuncture, Buddhism, tai chi, traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and -- wait for it -- bodybuilding. Though Frazer claims his story is factual, one suspects exaggeration, but it is funny to watch him fight his way through his neuroses and various medical absurdities. Frazer has wit and charm, and director-designer Kiff Scholl keeps things brisk on a clever set featuring the contents of a giant first-aid kit, including huge capsules and tablets. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 6. (323) 960-7785, Plays411.com/hyperchondriac. (Neal Weaver)
GO MONKEY ADORED
"I'm man's best friend. It's a thankless job," says pooch Brown Spot (Justin Okin) near the opening of Henry Murray's smart and sobering fantasia, Monkey Adored, which just opened at the Rogue Machine Theatre. To create an Orwellian Animal Farm blend of whimsy and despair, Murray uses anthropomorphic critters -- a sexy kitty winkingly named Madeline Kahn (Amanda Mauer); cancer-suffering Elaine Ostrich (Jennifer Taub); a horny monkey, Sonny Bonobo (Edward Tournier); Penguinito, head waiter at Le Cafe Cafe (Ron Bottitta); and what might be called the protagonist, James Rat (Patrick Flanagan). They couple with each other and then wonder why they can't quite connect. Sonny wipes his paws on doormat Brown Spot, who's masochistically smitten with him (very Tennessee Williams). Yet on the evolutionary chain, things took a dive when the apes descended into man, whom the play presupposes is destroying everything in and out of sight. At issue is scientific research of an antidote for radiation sickness, in preparation for a pending nuclear war. Sonny the monkey gets hauled by Man (a looming puppet) back to the lab to be further experimented on. In response, Rat plans a terrorist insurrection against the mortals, and poor loyal Brown Spot is on the spot with his mixed loyalties. Murray is also the literary manager for this theater. Both this play and his former work (Treefall) reveal a strikingly original voice that agonizes over estrangement and cruelty -- in this play with only a dash of sentimentality tempered by heaping spoonfuls of poeticism and wit. John Perrin Flynn directs the crackling ensemble in a production that steadily picks up momentum. Part of the stasis comes from the time it takes to invest in Murray's fantastical world and ultimately somber ideas. Delightful costumes by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz and Dan Weingarten's magical, carnival lighting contribute to a sense of a colorful cartoon about the end of things. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 20 | (323) 930-0747, roguemachinetheatre.com (Steven Leigh Morris)
With the portentous, Dantean parallel pronounced by its title, and the Iraq War occupation atrocity at the center of its action, playwright Bill Cain's excursive character study could be initially interpreted as an important antiwar statement. In fact, Cain's drama has little interest in war. Rather, the travails of Pvt. Daniel Edward Reeves (a smoldering Patrick J. Adams) -- a sociopathic, West Texas Army recruit accused of a horrific crime against a family of Iraqi civilians -- are a spiritual melodrama tricked out as a conventional psychological thriller. Reconciling the genre demands of the latter with the theological abstractions of the former, however, proves more pontifical than persuasive. Nine scenes, each subtitled as one of the circles of the Inferno, follow the antisocial protagonist as a lawyer (Paul Dillon), a shrink (Arlene Santana) and even a prison preacher (Joe Holt) attempt to plumb his miscreant soul before strapping him down for the lethal injection. And though a razor-sharp ensemble and director Justin Zsebe's energetic staging (on Jason Adams' inventive, camo netting-draped theater-in-the-round set) inject a surprising level of pathos, Cain's windy text leaves one wishing Dante had lightened his hell by one or two circumferences. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; thru Nov. 12. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.com. (Bill Raden)
PITY THE PROUD ONES
A fashionable Florida bordello, circa 1915, is the setting for Kurt Maxey's middling tale of a troubled father-son relationship. Martin O'Grady (Darrell Philip) owes his mulatto son James (Dorian Christian Baucum) a lot of money, and he's come to town to pay up. But his arrival brings with it a lot of trouble. Both men are ensnared by a past seared with racism and simmering resentments that gradually emerge and threaten to destroy them and all involved. Director Ben Guillory's clever, site-specific staging doesn't offset the digressive, elliptical nature of Maxey's script, which starts out hot, then turns cold midway through. Cast performances are spotty. Baucum's racial resentment and bad attitude are ballooned to caricature and Philip's performance often seems labored and wooden. Standouts are Caroline Morahan as the bordello madam, Staci Mitchell as her bookkeeper and Ben Jurand as a local. Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 4, 514 S. Spring St., dwntwn.; Thurs-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (866) 811-4111, robeytheatrecompany.com. (Lovell Estell III)
GO PULP SHAKESPEARE
Director Jordan Monsell argues that the quality of the wit combined with the lurking and then explosive violence in Quentin Tarantino's 1994 classic movie Pulp Fiction makes it a good candidate for mock-retrofitting into the Bard's canon. This stage lampoon returns after being a hit at this summer's Hollywood Fringe. In a performance compiled and edited by Ben Tallen, Aaron Greer and Brian Watson-Jones, Tarantino's jigsaw plot is served up like a slice of ham in a late-16th-century England setting, with characters who bear a vague resemblance to the movie's stars John Travolta (Aaron Lyons), Samuel L. Jackson (Dan White), Ving Rhames (Nathaniel Freeman), Bruce Willis (Christian Levatino), Amanda Plummer (Liza deWeerd) and Uma Thurman (Sierra Fisk). The show's shining virtue is the translation of Tarantino's stark, tart dialogue into something approaching iambic pentameter. Then stir in the raw fun of slapping legendary movie scenes onto a stage. The cleverness has a sugar-rush effect, delightful in the moment and like a distant memory in the next. Her Majesty's Secret Players at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (323) 960-7612, plays411.com/pulp. (Steven Leigh Morris)
Amanda (Michael Learned) is a Democrat, Gus (Granville Van Dusen) is a Republican. She loves clutter, he prefers spartan. She adores travel, he never moved farther than the house next door. Love makes you compromise. But for these two senior sweethearts, mortality makes you compromise more -- especially when, as Gus says, you're just looking for one person to be sad when you die. Playwright Kathleen Clark checks in with the couple from their meet-cute through their marriage, and nearly every scene follows the same arc: Learned's vivacious blonde struggles to charm Van Dusen's awkward widower, decides to cut her losses, and is reeled back in by his last-ditch grand gesture. In darker hands, this could be a play about desperation. But Jules Aaron's production is all syrup, and the audience claps and coos when Gus does right by his lady love. It's candy floss with a few nicely sour moments -- when Amanda's heartbroken that Gus hasn't given their burial arrangements a thought, women of all ages sigh and nod. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; thru Nov. 13. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com. (Amy Nicholson)