Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a Mesmerizing Child's-Eye View of Grief, Walking the Tightrope
|Cindy Marie Jenkins|
|Paige Lindsey White and Mark Bramhall in "Walking the Tightrope"|
Some comedies reinforce what we probably already know, and offer delight in doing so. This week's Stage Feature looks at a musical (Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy) at Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica and a musical revue (When You're in Love, The Whole World is Jewish) at Greenway Court Theatre in the Fairfax district.
Coming Next Week: The 34th Annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards nominees!
New theater reviews, scheduled for publication February 14, 2013:
GO THE GIFT In this provocative comedy-drama, Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith tells a tale of two married couples who meet at an upscale tropical resort. Sadie (Kathy Baker) and Ed (Chris Mulkey) are rich, square Angelenos: He's a smugly successful tool manufacturer, but they are childless, and she's feeling disenchanted about their marriage. Chloe (Jaime Ray Newman) and Martin (James Van Der Beek) are young, idealistic and very much in love. He's a dedicated conceptual artist, she's a serious arts writer. The dissimilarities of the two couples prove a source of fascination: Each feels the other has something they lack. They become inseparable. When Ed is washed overboard in a boating accident, Martin leaps in and rescues him. Ed feels he owes his life to Martin, and wants to give him something in return. He asks Martin what the gift should be, and the answer proves both shocking and unnerving. Murray-Smith finds rich comedy and abundant sharp one-liners in the earlier scenes, but the later revelations are less persuasive. Director Maria Aitken elicits strong performances from her cast, but the chic minimalist set by Derek McLane emphasizes a pervasive unreality. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 10. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Neal Weaver)
I'LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT
|L to R: Ron Orbach, Kate Meyer, Joanna Strap and Tyler Pierce|
GO PARADISE: A DIVINE BLUEGRASS MUSICAL COMEDY
|L to R: Jason Rowland, Jonathan Root and Elijah Rock|
SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE Dan LeFranc's emotion-tinged drama attempts to explore the thorny relationship between a father and son struggling for connection after an ugly divorce. It takes place in Ky's (Wes Whitehead) Volvo as he travels to Silver Lake for a weekend along with son Denny (Daniel David Stewart). It's the chemistry between Ky's rough edges but soft heart and Denny's boyish innocence and vulnerability that provides emotional heft, not the play's beggarly thin plotline. The father spends much time plying his son for info about his ex-wife's shopping habits, love life, motherly peculiarities and shortfalls; there is also a lot of pointless talk about soccer and a great deal of puerile wisecracking The dearth of substance in much of the dialogue is telling early on. Some jarring moments impart the distinct sense that the time frame of this ride is not what it seems, but this bracketing artifice is mainly clunky and confusing. Performances under Becca Wolff's direction are satisfactory. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 10. (859) 893-5376, iamatheatre.secure.force.com/ticket. (Lovell Estell III)
GO SMOKE AND MIRRORS
|Albie Selznick and Fine Feathered Friend|
SOUTHERN GOTHIC NOVEL: THE ABERDEEN MISSISSIPPI SEX-SLAVE INCIDENT
TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK
|J. Patrick Wise and Shea Scott|
PICK OF THE WEEK: WALKING THE TIGHTROPE
|Cindy Marie Jenkins|
|Paige Lindsey White and Mark Bramhall in "Walking the Tightrope"|
GO WHEN YOU'RE IN LOVE, THE WHOLE WORLD IS JEWISH
|Greenway Arts Alliance|
|Jay Brian Winnick and Rena Strober|
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:
Around the World in 80 Days Adapted by Mark Brown from Jules Verne's classic adventure story. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17. International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, 562-436-4610, www.ictlongbeach.org.
Backbeat This Beatles-origins jukebox musical isn't the first time Iain Softley (with co-stage adaptor Stephen Jeffreys) has tried to bottle the lightning of Britain's legendary Merseybeat scene. His first go was the 1994 film of the same name, which also used the band's formative Hamburg period as the backdrop for Softley's tale of the tragic love triangle between the band's original bassist, painter Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood), John Lennon (Andrew Knott) and famed Hamburg groupie Astrid Kirchherr (Leanne Best). To the credit of the musician-actors (with Daniel Healy as Paul McCartney, Daniel Westwick as George Harrison and Oliver Bennett as drummer Pete Best) and musical supervisor Paul Stacey, director David Leveaux's polished production convincingly re-creates the early-Beatles sound along with their bad-boy Liverpudlian swagger. Unfortunately, despite designer Andrew D. Edward's austere Kaiserkeller set and a host of fog machines, the book simply lacks the poetics to power up its source screenplay to the Ahmanson's vast stage. Rather than the sordid and electrifying immediacy of the Hamburg club scene, the Beatleholics-only brew delivers little more than its soundtrack. (Bill Raden). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through March 1. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
GO Chinglish The title is the slang term for unintentionally hilarious translations that appear on Chinese signage, meant to help the recent onslaught of English-speaking tourists. Verbally thrilling playwright David Henry Hwang uses these misadventures in translation as a springboard into a fascinating tale of colliding cultures in a new world where America is more involved with China than ever but no longer dominant. Cleveland sign maker Daniel (Alex Moggridge) travels to a midsize city in southwest China, where he proposes to solve the culturally embarrassing practice of Chinglish signs. Hwang slyly captures the cliche about Asian inscrutability with remarkably biting humor as well as sharp ethical questioning of capitalism, international distrust and the meaning of marriage. Daniel, who touts his own honesty, is surrounded by dissemblers, including a Mandarin-speaking Australian (in a wondrously bizarre performance by Brian Nishii) who promises to help him through the maze of Chinese bureaucracy, here in the form of old-school cultural minister Cai (Raymond Ma) and his ambition deputy, Xi Yang (Michelle Krusiec). Sex, corporate intrigue and political conspiracy swirl through director Leigh Silverman's fast-paced, brilliantly acted production. That swirl is matched by David Korins' perfectly crafted sets, which move in fascinating patterns through the nimble use of two turntables. Brian MacDevitt's lighting and Darron L. West's sound add to this outstanding production. (Tom Provenzano). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-708-5555, www.scr.org.
Christmas in Hanoi East West Players present Eddie Borey's world premiere about a mixed-race family's return to Vietnam. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 10, eastwestplayers.org. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles, 213-625-7000.
GO Fallen Angels While their men are away, the wives will play, or so it is in Noël Coward's comedy, which is like a stylish version of Desperate Housewives, circa 1920s London. It follows close friends Julia and Jane (Pamela J. Gray and Katie MacNichol), whose cosseted, middle-class existence has them pining for excitement and romance. When word suddenly arrives that Maurice Duclos (Elijah Alexander), a dashing Frenchman with whom both women years earlier had a sexual dalliance, is in town, the comedy kicks into high gear, as each tries to scheme her way back into Maurice's supposedly welcoming embrace. This is Coward at his urbane, witty best. Watching these "respectable" British ladies twirl away into girlish giddiness, then nose-dive into a martini-soaked, insult-lobbing spectacle of jealousy and flying fur, is hysterically funny. This production soars on superb performances, as the girls are a kick from start to finish; Mary- Pat Green does a terrific turn as Saunders, the maid. Art Manke's direction is flawless, and Tom Buderwitz has designed a strikingly fastidious drawing room as a backdrop. Prior to the performance reviewed, Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps gave special tribute to Mike Stoller (of songwriting team Leiber and Stoller) and his wife Corky, whose generous gift of $1 million in 2010 helped return this venerable theater to financial solvency. (Lovell Estell III). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Food Confessions Nancy Nufer's "saucy" comedy. Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-2900.
GO The Gift In this provocative comedy-drama, Australian writer Joanna Murray-Smith tells a tale of two married couples who meet at an upscale tropical resort. Sadie (Kathy Baker) and Ed (Chris Mulkey) are rich, square Angelenos: He's a smugly successful tool manufacturer, but they are childless, and she's feeling disenchanted about their marriage. Chloe (Jaime Ray Newman) and Martin (James Van Der Beek) are young, idealistic and very much in love. He's a dedicated conceptual artist, she's a serious arts writer. The dissimilarities of the two couples prove a source of fascination: Each feels the other has something they lack. They become inseparable. When Ed is washed overboard in a boating accident, Martin leaps in and rescues him. Ed feels he owes his life to Martin, and wants to give him something in return. He asks Martin what the gift should be, and the answer proves both shocking and unnerving. Murray-Smith finds rich comedy and abundant sharp one-liners in the earlier scenes, but the later revelations are less persuasive. Director Maria Aitken elicits strong performances from her cast, but the chic minimalist set by Derek McLane emphasizes a pervasive unreality. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 10. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com. (Neal Weaver)
GO Hansel and Gretel Avoiding junk food and getting through tough times together are the upbeat messages in this defanged, radically revised adaptation of the Grimms' classic. Tall lanky Hansel (Joey Jennings) and his petite sister, Gretel (Caitlin Gallogly), are unhappy at home because their out-of-work woodcutter father (Anthony Gruppuso) hasn't the money to feed them. So they take off, and along the way encounter a frustrated, stage-struck witch (understudy Bonnie Kalisher at the performance reviewed), piqued because the play in progress is about them and not about her. Her plan is to capture the children and stuff them with sweets to make them lazy and uninteresting, and then seize the spotlight for herself. But she's foiled by an enterprising bird (Barbara Mallory) who comes to the captives' rescue. Geared to youngsters, both Lloyd J. Schwartz's book and the music and lyrics by Hope and Laurence Juber have unsophisticated charm and even a measure of wit. Jennings' boisterous boy and Gallogly's sweetly admonishing sister present an appealing foil. The ensemble enjoy themselves, and their energy is contagious. As usual, it is the audience-participation segments, as well as the spontaneous commentary from the little ones in the audience, that garner the most laughs. Elliot Schwartz directs. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through March 2, 818-761-2203. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, www.theatrewest.org.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly Celeste Raspanti's Holocaust-survivor story. Part of the youth series "Theatre for a New Generation." Fri., Feb. 15, 10 a.m. & 7 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 16, 1 & 5 p.m. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.
I'll Be Back Before Midnight
|L to R: Ron Orbach, Kate Meyer, Joanna Strap and Tyler Pierce|
Jane Austen Unscripted Presented by Impro Theatre. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through April 14. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Jekyll & Hyde Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox star in Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn's musical extravaganza, based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through March 3. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.
GO Nothing to Hide A telling admission in Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães' magic show Nothing to Hide is that shows such as this should be antiquated by now. One of them comes right out and says it: We already live in an era of technological magic, so how can card tricks possibly compete? Apps on an Android phone tell us in the blink of an eye which roads are clogged and which are open, or how many parking spaces are available on Hollywood Boulevard, or the best Italian or Chinese restaurant nearby. If your Houdini Siberian Husky breaks out the back window, a "Tagg" GPS dog tracker will send you timed reports with a map showing the dog's location. In such an age, what could possibly motivate people to fight crosstown traffic in order to sit in the dark, among strangers, and watch two men playing with pieces of paper -- an entertainment from another century? It's like going to a carnie show, without even the macabre glee that carnie shows used to offer. And yet, under Neil Patrick Harris' direction, the show flows like silk. (Steven Leigh Morris). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 5 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4:30 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, $47-$127. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Shirley Valentine One-woman show starring DeeDee Rescher. Written by Willy Russell, directed by Andrew Barnicle. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 3. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside, Burbank, 818-955-8101, www.falcontheatre.com.
Songs of Bilitis Erotic psychological thriller based on the novel by Pierre Louÿs, adapted for the stage by Katie Polebaum with Rogue Artists Ensemble. Fri., Feb. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 16, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 3 p.m. South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-708-5555, www.scr.org.
Sunday Night Solo Series February 10: Lee Meriwether in The Women of Spoon River; February 17: Jim Beaver in Sidekick; Kres Mersky in Isadora Duncan: A Unique Recital; Abbott Alexander in The Nameless One; Dina Morrone in The Italian in Me; Anthony Gruppuso in The Face Behind the Face, Behind the Face; April 7: Steve Nevil in As Always, Jimmy Stewart. Sun., Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 17, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., March 24, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., April 7, 7:30 p.m. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown Book, music and lyrics by Clark M. Gesner, with new music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, additional dialogue by Michael Mayer. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17. Fred Kavli Theater, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. (Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza), Thousand Oaks, 805-449-2787, www.civicartsplaza.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
GO Absolutely Filthy Just 'cause I have a ton of dirt on me doesn't make me a monster," says The Mess (playwright Brendan Hunt), the adult incarnation of Pig Pen from the Peanuts comics, who is now a homeless man, in Absolutely Filthy. His desire to be more than an "accumulation of [his] sins" drives the story of a reunion of the old gang after the demise of Charlie Brown (played by Scott Golden, credited as The Deceased -- the characters are given abstract names for legal reasons). Hunt's exploration of the dysfunction of these familiar characters all grown up is darkly hilarious. Through a series of flashbacks, prompted by their arrivals at the church to pay their respects, The Mess' journey to his present state is revealed. While the cast is solid across the board, Hunt truly steals the show, and not just because he keeps his "cloud of dust," a Hula Hoop, in constant motion the entire time he's onstage (a feat in itself!). His clever writing, comic timing and use of understatement to tremendous effect allow Hunt to weave sociopolitical commentary, gross-out humor and insightful observations into engaging and entertaining rants. Director Jeremy Aldridge deftly manages a massive cast, making great use of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's set, itself an inventive homage to homelessness with its junk-themed design. Standouts in the cast include an out-of-the-closet Schroeder (Curt Bonnem as The Pop Star), hard-ass sports agent Lucy (Anna Douglas as The Big Sister) and recovering alcoholic judge Franklin (KJ Middlebrooks as His Honor). It seems that the Fools' late-night series Serial Killers, where this show originated, has once again yielded comedy gold. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 2, $20. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein Ten actors perform nine of Silverstein's plays. Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22, plays411.com/ShelSilverstein. McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, 323-856-0665, www.mccaddentheatre.com.
Bitch Trouble: An Evening of Stories About Friends Rod Menzies directs, and writer-performer Alice Johnson Boher tells tales about the "wild highs and co-dependent lows of female friendship". Wed., Feb. 20, 8 p.m., $20. Casita Del Campo, 1920 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-662-4255, www.casitadelcampo.com.
Blood Knot Athol Fugard's Apartheid play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 16, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 23, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 24, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, bloodknot.nathanaeljohnson.com. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-469-9988.
Company Creation Festival 2013 In a cavernous space, a woman (Melissa R. Randel) lies coiled on a hospital bed. Her blackened eyes are wild and sunken. Her bedclothes and bed linen are white; they glow in the darkened room. Suddenly she emerges from her fetal state, discoursing rabidly with herself; then a zombie-like nurse (Shirley Anderson) pops from behind the bed, and the solo rant becomes a raging, ritualized pas de deux. Written by the performers, with no director credited, this hourlong piece of physical theater aims to explore the impact of "transgression" on the human psyche. That motif didn't emerge clearly for me; what did materialize was an intense and gripping depiction of an unhinged mind, a frightening scenario to which lighting designer Brandon Baruch and sound technician Jeff Gardner add chilling dimension. It's all skillfully executed; the problem is, you understand the point well before the show is over. Fabula Hysterica at Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; in rep, call for schedule. (323) 841-9151, sonofsemele.org. (Deborah Klugman). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March 3. Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-351-3507, www.sonofsemele.org.
The Deep Throat Sex Scandal Written by David Bertolino, directed by Jerry Douglas. Guest stars: Sally Kirkland and Bruce Vilanch (Jan. 31-Feb. 3), Nina Hartley and Christopher Knight (Feb. 7-10), Georgina Spelvin and Ron Jeremy (Feb. 14-17). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17, 800-838-3006, deepthroattheplay.com. Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. See Theater Feature
Dirty Filthy Love Story There are two stars in Rob Mersola's new comedy, Dirty Filthy Love Story. The first is David Mauer and Hazel Kuang's set. In a coup de theatre, the entire back wall of what looks like a cardboard-cutout living room drops forward and slams to the ground, revealing the home to be the garbage-bag, stacked-boxes and strewn-clothes rat's nest of the play's hoarder-protagonist, Ashley (Jennifer Pollono). The other star is Joshua Bitton's understated performance as the mentally challenged garbage man Hal, hired by Ashley's next-door neighbor Benny (Burl Moseley) to clean the trash from her side yard so he can sell his home. The sexually charged romance between Hal and Ashley grows increasingly macabre, homicidal and strained, and the play's main joke really turns on the passionate, nihilistic attraction between them. Pollono and Moseley were too screechy at the performance reviewed, under Elina de Santos' absorbing, sitcom-style direction. And I couldn't understand why, in one scene, Benny would fail to defend himself against the lovers, who have targeted him for death. After all, they've already struck him with a frying pan that's now sitting in front of him on the couch. But when he regains consciousness, rather than pick up the weapon, he merely rants about his plight. Such details can be worked out. This is a world premiere, after all. Mainly, though, the play is about its premise and nothing more. With transitional songs referring to a world under siege by garbage, this is a work that could actually be about something. Either it needs to be as thin as farce, or reconsidered more deeply. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 24. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-2202.
GO Foote Notes: A Young Lady of Property & The Land of the Astronauts Subtlety and skill are on ample display in this duo of Horton Foote one-acts, directed by Scott Paulin. "A Woman of Property," set in Foote's Harrison, Texas, in 1925, revolves around a high-spirited, 15-year-old named Wilma (Juliette Goglia), whose mom has died and whose dad is about to remarry and sell the family home. In an outstanding turn, Goglia's performance captures both the innocence of the play's time and place and the spirit of confused rebellious adolescence that transcends it. In "The Land of the Astronauts," set in 1983, the modern world looms closer to Harrison. The plot concerns a young family nearly torn apart when the father (Aaron McPherson), overcome by a sense of futility, goes off the deep end and pursues his fantasy of being an astronaut. Laetitia Leon is spot-on as his warm, lovely wife, Lorena, who doesn't quite understand but knows how to comfort her man and get him back on track. Supporting performances help weave the sense of community that is the hallmark of Foote's work: among them Talyan Wright, beguiling and utterly professional as Lorena's young daughter, and Matt Little as the helpful young deputy obviously vulnerable to Lorena's charm. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 15, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fri., Feb. 22, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 23, $25, $20 seniors & students. Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-882-6912, www.openfist.org.
The Good Negro Tracey Scott Wilson's rich civil rights drama opens with Rev. James Lawrence (Roger Bridges) stepping out from a halo of white light to punctuate the play's earnest opening salvo, a neatly encapsulating image from director Michael Phillip Edwards. Lawrence, an obvious Martin Luther King figure, has brought his organization to Birmingham, Ala., to invigorate the movement, after disappointing near-successes elsewhere across the segregated South. But the government's clandestine PR battle has followed them to Alabama, and the activists are keenly aware that buckling under an inhuman pressure to remain unimpeachable could cost them the larger war. At two and a half hours, the play makes plenty of room for teachable moments, interpersonal conflict, complicated realities and adroit tone shifts, as with Bill Rutherford (Stephen Grove Malloy), who arrives from Geneva to whip the group into shape, providing both a gently comic presence and ultimately a genuinely moving one. But this production labors to overcome a cast that as a whole hasn't found its chemistry (a different cast performs on alternate nights). (Mindy Farabee). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, 323-960-7774, plays411.com/goodnegro. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
The Grand Irrationality The least rational aspect of this world premiere of playwright Jemma Kennedy's inoffensive Britcom may be in the puzzling disconnect between director John Pleshette's fine facility in eliciting well-etched performances and the self-defeating cumbersomeness of his staging. Kennedy's wisp of a story rides the comic complications that ensue when philandering London ad copywriter Guy (Gregory Marcel) reluctantly takes in his invalided curmudgeonly father (Peter Elbling) as well as his meddling, single-mother mess of a sister (Mina Badie) and her incessantly mewling baby. A subplot involving Guy's tangled sexual dalliances with two clients (Kirsten Kollender, Bess Meyer) adds a measure of moral foam to the froth. The evening's sharpest edges come via James Donovan as Guy's cynical and misogynistic boss, particularly in a priapic and somewhat obvious homage to Neil LaBute. The most ragged arise from Pleshette's own set design. The comic momentum keeps butting into the ungainly scene changes dictated by Pleshette's profusion of sliding panels and clumsy stage furniture. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 3, 323-960-4443, plays411.com/grand. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
Happy Face Sad Face The same tumble we took in a Hollywood crosswalk that made us cry yesterday might make us laugh today. So in theory, R.J. Colleary's idea to take one play and play it two ways back-to-back is shrewd if not necessarily groundbreaking -- it's been a reliable card in improv comedy's deck for years. For this world premiere, Colleary's set-up is a couple arguing over having a baby as visiting in-laws fret over their own looming situation. Both quarrels are interrupted by a knock on the door, and, dum-dum-dum, the plot thickens. Opening-night pacing problems plagued it, but "Sad Face" has the potential to be like the book you speed-read to find out what happens. Trouble is, in "Happy Face," the "replay," the plot just gets goopy. The crux of the story is too serious to be surrounded by such nonsense, which means it gets lost, which means the whole act falls apart. Actor Tom Christensen seasons the kooky but kinda silly turn the script takes with a just-right dose of black comedy, but the other cast members' characters either slide into caricature or just seem amorphous (director Kathleen Rubin should have used more muscle). But hey, look on the bright side -- Colleary has a pretty good, gloomy one-act. (Rebecca Haithcoat). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, brownpapertickets.com/event/266029. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse It would take a cultural philosopher to adequately explain why zombies have so profoundly resonated with audiences at this historical moment. One does not, however, need to be a Gilles Deleuze to understand its baroque potential for satire. Which is to say that anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the genre rules laid down by George Romero will find a lot to like in director Patrick Bristow's amiable, Americanized version of this improv-derived British fringe import by Ben Muir, Jess Napthine, David Ash and Lee Cooper. Bristow is zombiologist Dr. Bobert Dougash. Jayne Entwistle, Mario Vernazza and Chris Sheets are his seminar's panel of conspicuously underqualified experts, who take very seriously the ludicrous prospect of surviving a fictional, species-exterminating epidemic. Bristow expertly leads the crew through some clever wordplay routines worthy of Abbott & Costello, padded out with some genial barbs directed at audience targets of opportunity. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Am Google Craig Ricci Shaynak is Google! Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24, i-am-google.com. Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Met Someone! Cheryl Francis Harrington's solo show, directed by Kimleigh Smith, is essentially a comedy about the woes of serial dating. As she tells it, she had an idyllic childhood in Harlem, until she moved to California, where she discovered the kind of prejudice that condemned her for being a zaftig black woman. She devoted her entire existence to trying to meet the Mr. Right who'd solve all her problems. She was only able to break the pattern when she realized no man could be her Mr. Right until she came to terms with herself. Harrington is a highly personable performer, despite a tendency to get loud and shrill. And, in structuring her tale, she relies too heavily on a couple of songs, "Tomorrow" from Annie and "Nothing" from A Chorus Line, which make the saga feel more predictable and derivative than it is. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 21, 800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/284287. Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner St., Los Angeles, www.workingstage.com.
I Wanna Be Loved: Stories of Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues Barbara Morrison is Dinah Washington! Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 31. Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, 4305 Degnan Blvd. Ste. 101, Los Angeles, 323-296-2272, www.barbaramorrisonpac.com.
GO In the Red and Brown Water Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney sets this music-, dance- and myth-infused work in the "distant present," weaving his story around talented young athlete Oya (Diarra Kilpatrick), who risks her future to care for her ailing mother. The play charts a downhill course for this lovely, open-hearted person: Her mother dies, the prized scholarship goes to someone else and Oya is trapped in the barrio, plagued with passion for an unfaithful lover (Gilbert Glenn Brown) and for the same fulfillment as every other woman in her circumscribed community -- a child. It's no accident that Oya's barrenness parallels the predicament in Federico Garcia Lorca's Yerma, or that she bears the name of a Yoruba goddess. McCraney pulls together a confluence of elements -- although predominantly Yoruba -- to present a visceral fable that rises up from the underbelly of America. Kilpatrick's portrayal embraces every bit of her feisty, soulful character, made more compelling by the intimate performance space. Brown's slick, calibrated womanizer is an aptly fashioned foil and the remaining ensemble is strong. But designer Frederica Nascimento's set, with its pale walls and light wood backdrop, is too tidy and sterile to reflect the play's darkness. Shirley Jo Finney directs. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays-Sundays. Continues through Feb. 24, $30-$34. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
Love Bites "An evening of dysfunctional, not-so-romantic short plays." Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 2, 855-663-6743, ElephantTheatre.org. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
LoveSick Written and directed by Larissa Wise. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 10. Loft Ensemble, 929 E. Second St. No. 105, Los Angeles, 213-680-0392, www.loftensemble.com.
The Museum of Living Art Presented by Nappy Nation. Fri., Feb. 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., Feb. 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 17, 3 p.m., nappynation.brownpapertickets.com. The Attic Theatre and Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-525-0661, www.attictheatre.org.
Oh, Yes She Did! From Slave-Ship to Space-Ship: Black Women Pioneers of America Writer-performer Sandy Brown pays passionate homage to eight famous African-American women in an energetic solo performance that would benefit from the input of an experienced director. Carefully researched, and aptly costumed for each period, her dramatic renditions inform us about 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, civil rights activist Rosa Parks and acclaimed cabaret entertainer Josephine Baker, among others. Brown sings and dances well and delivers her lines with presence. But the end result can be characterized as detailed impersonations of historical figures rather than emotionally in-depth portrayals with the feel of authenticity. The most successful segment is her depiction of soul singer Billie Holiday, a hard-luck individual who criticized the status quo and was incarcerated for drug use. Brown's focused monologue, and her singing, nab the essence of this woman's torment. With its song-and-dance numbers, her take on Baker also entertains. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 6:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through March 24. Theatre/Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-422-6361, www.theatretheater.net.
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). Saturdays, 8 p.m., (866) 811-4111, theatermania.com. Dragonfly, 6510 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thedragonfly.com.
Sixty Miles to Silver Lake Dan LeFranc's emotion-tinged drama attempts to explore the thorny relationship between a father and son struggling for connection after an ugly divorce. It takes place in Ky's (Wes Whitehead) Volvo as he travels to Silver Lake for a weekend along with son Denny (Daniel David Stewart). It's the chemistry between Ky's rough edges but soft heart and Denny's boyish innocence and vulnerability that provides emotional heft, not the play's beggarly thin plotline. The father spends much time plying his son for info about his ex-wife's shopping habits, love life, motherly peculiarities and shortfalls; there is also a lot of pointless talk about soccer and a great deal of puerile wisecracking The dearth of substance in much of the dialogue is telling early on. Some jarring moments impart the distinct sense that the time frame of this ride is not what it seems, but this bracketing artifice is mainly clunky and confusing. Performances under Becca Wolff's direction are satisfactory. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 10. (859) 893-5376, iamatheatre.secure.force.com/ticket. (Lovell Estell III)
Something to Crow About The Bob Baker Marionettes' musical "Day on the Farm." Saturdays, Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. First St., Los Angeles, 213-250-9995, www.bobbakermarionettes.com.
Southern Gothic Novel: The Aberdeen Mississippi Sex-Slave Incident
To Be Young, Gifted and Black
|J. Patrick Wise and Shea Scott|
Towne Street Theatre's 6th Annual Ten-Minute Play Festival This year's theme: "The Black Experience: Past, Present & Future." Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Feb. 17, 213-712-6944, townestreet.org. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, www.stellaadler-la.com.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Walking the Tightrope
|Cindy Marie Jenkins|
|Paige Lindsey White and Mark Bramhall in "Walking the Tightrope"|
GO WHEN YOU'RE IN LOVE, THE WHOLE WORLD IS JEWISH
|Greenway Arts Alliance|
|Jay Brian Winnick and Rena Strober|
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
And the World Goes 'Round Kander and Ebb musical revue, featuring "Cabaret," "Maybe this Time," "All That Jazz," "New York, New York" and more Broadway hits. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 10. North Hollywood Performing Arts Center (NoHoPAC), 11020 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-763-0086.
Cassiopeia Written by David Wiener, directed by Emilie Beck. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wed., Feb. 20, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, 626-683-6883, www.bostoncourt.com. See Theater Feature.
Company Stephen Sondheim's musical-comedy. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 30, crowncitytheatre.com. Crown City Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-745-8527, www.crowncitytheatre.com.
Giving Up Is Hard to Do The best moments in Annie Abbott's one-woman show center on the intimate and raw details surrounding her mastectomy and subsequent decision to forgo reconstructive surgery. Her tempered grief, and her insecurity as she later dives, one-breasted, into the online dating pool, create sharply funny and poignant scenes, which later include breaking into acting, the sudden death of her lumberjack-sized husband and her older daughter's epileptic seizures. Abbott is a likable storyteller who never lapses into self-pity, but she ventures into a market glutted with one-person shows. The presentation -- combining an unclear framing device, an oddly artificial present-tense narrative and overly animated staging, directed by Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) -- at times feels forced. For a cozy chat over a cup of coffee, I can think of few better companions than Abbott, but this show may find limited appeal. (Jenny Lower). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 17. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, 818-841-4404, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.
GO Smoke and Mirrors
|Albie Selznick and Fine Feathered Friend|
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
7 Stories Morris Panych's comedy about a man on a ledge. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.org.
Auto Parts A play in four parts, selected by the audience. Written and directed by Steve Stajich, featuring Trevor Anthony, Mike Gallagher, Joey Hamer, Heidi James, Frank Noon, Angela Stern, June Stoddard, and Eric Svendsen. Sun., Feb. 17, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 8 p.m., $12. Fanatic Salon, 3815 Sawtelle Blvd., Mar Vista, 310-795-7469.
Flying Standby Tonya Meeks' autobiographical solo show. Thu., Feb. 21, 8 p.m., 415-571-0682, flyingstandbyhome.com. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, www.electriclodge.org.
A Heap of Livin' World-premiere comedy-drama by Elliot Shoenman, on the costs of aging. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17, inkwelltheater.com. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
The Laugh Lines One-act comedies by Christopher Durang, David-Lindsay Abair, David Ives, and more. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 3. Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast, Malibu, 310-589-1998, www.malibustagecompany.org.
GO Nora Ingmar Bergman's adaptation of A Doll's House restructures Henrik Ibsen's fierce family drama, stripping the play to its emotional essence, a goal that's underscored by director Dana Jackson's spartan but evocative production. On a simple set consisting of some chairs, a Christmas tree in the back and, later, a bed, Jackson's staging puts its emphasis where the play's money is -- on the subtext driving the car crash that is the marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer. Brad Greenquist's brutally curt and entitled Torvald comes across as the sort of business executive who sees a trophy wife as being merely part of his resume, while Jeanette Driver's Nora, with surface-level bubbliness belying an interior desperation and, yes, horror, is subtle and touching. Add to this Martha Hackett's wan, hard-used Mrs. Linde and Scott Conte's self-loathingly desperate Krogstad, and the production boasts some incredibly nuanced characterizations. Although the decision (by Bergman, not Jackson) to add a dramatic, pace-interrupting sex scene to the final act jars, the clarity and power of the show's performances make this a textbook dynamic production of the tragic drama. (Paul Birchall). Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 24. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, 310-822-8392, www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
Paradise: A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy
|L to R: Jason Rowland, Jonathan Root and Elijah Rock|
Pick of the Vine The eight courses, served at roughly 10-minute intervals, in Little Fish Theatre's short-play festival are not unlike Thanksgiving dinner with your grandparents: There are some buttery, wonderful mashed potatoes and a deliciously spiced homemade pumpkin pie, but the bulk of the meal -- green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce and steamed asparagus -- is a bit bland and banal, if nostalgically comforting. From 594 nationwide submissions, eight plays were chosen for this year's showcase, of which the decadent dessert is surely "The Eiffel Truth" by Susan Apker, which centers on a chance meeting at the Paris landmark. Benjamin (Bill Wolski), a snarky Brit who has just been jilted at the altar, receives sympathy and handkerchiefs from Lucy (Rachel Levy), a kindly Yank who teaches history at Michigan. Though Wolski and Levy are competent in some of the other plays, they find a unique chemistry in this funny and sentimental piece. Holly Baker-Kreiswirth's direction demonstrates sensitivity and a creative use of space, bringing to life Apker's clever writing. The other standout of the evening is "A Fine Romance" by Ben Jolivet, which feels like what Larry David's take on the male-female power-struggle play Venus in Fur might be. In it, a first-grade teacher (Baker-Kreiswirth) chances upon the author of the vampire romance novel she's reading (Don Schlossman) as they share a park bench. To attempt to transcend the awkwardness of their initial flirtation, they begin to role-play as characters from the novel and hilarity ensues. The remainder of the works are mostly comedies, ranging from best friends who practice kissing ("The Kiss"), to a couple who simply can't decide on a baby name ("A Name"), to a gun-slinging deity visiting a do-nothing couch potato to motivate him to live his life ("The Divine Visitation of Joe Pickelsimer"). Two of the works, however, are more serious, including one that explores, through answering-machine messages, the mindset of individuals experiencing 9/11 ("Disconnections"). With a number of sold-out performances and an enthusiastic audience, the showcase clearly has resonance in the community ... just like grandma's comfort food. Perhaps that's why it has been a part of the company's repertoire for more than a decade now. (Mayank Keshaviah). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 16. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
GO The Rainmaker A con-man/drifter walks into a small town, usually in the Midwest, and seduces a vulnerable local female. He not only seduces her, he awakens her to her true self and potential, which the opinions of others -- her family and society -- have been suffocating. Oh, brother. Get the broom and sweep off the cobwebs. In lesser hands than director Jack Heller's, watching The Rainmaker would be like trudging through a slightly dank, primeval marsh without rubber boots -- the kind of experience where you might say, "Well, isn't this historic and curious. Where can I dry my socks?" The production is saved in part by its linchpin, Tanna Frederick's droll, rat-smart Lizzie. With subtlety and composure that often belies the text, she knows who she is and what she wants. Though the play is over-written, Frederick's performance lies so entrenched beneath the lines, it's as though she absorbs the play's excesses so that they don't even show. Her terrific performance is not enough to turn the play into a classic, but it does provide enough of an emotional pull to reveal the reasons why it keeps getting staged. (Steven Leigh Morris). Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through April 15. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
GO The Snake Can Writer Kathryn Graf (author of late 2011's hit play Hermetically Sealed) perfectly captures the easy and sparkling conversation -- the kind that always resumes midsentence -- among three longtime female friends. Nina (Diane Cary), Harriet (Jane Kaczmarek) and Meg (Sharon Sharth), now middle-aged, all are successful in their careers but unlucky in love for different reasons. The trio frequently gets together to drink wine and share war stories and encouragement as widowed Harriet nervously dips her toe into the online dating pool. Nina's enjoying a new direction with her fine art but can't quite let go of her estranged famous-actor husband, Paul (Gregory Harrison), whose wandering eye begins to size up Meg. What's superb about Graf's insightful play is its refreshing unpredictability, its allegiance to its focus (the women and their enduring friendships) and the raw scenes, of which there are several, in which all six characters express themselves with searing honesty. Plus, there are numerous memorable lines that transcend mere quippery; Meg confesses she feels "ruined by loneliness" while Harriet's new boyfriend, the bisexual Stephen (James Lancaster), confesses to his old flame Brad (Joel Polis) that sometimes being with a woman is "like eating on a full stomach." Steven Robman's sensitive direction (and sensible, unfussy staging) permits the performances to chime with veracity. (Pauline Adamek). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sat., March 2, 3 p.m. Continues through March 2. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
Tom Rubin: Success Guru Writer-performer Tom Rubin's solo show deftly spoofs that breed of irritating self-help seminar in which a motivational expert strives to inculcate you with just the Buddhist qualities needed to destroy your competition and make a pile of money. This is potentially fertile spoofing ground to plow -- who hasn't at some point wanted to take a flying kick at whichever ivory-toothed, twinkle-eyed twit is the late-night infomercial star du jour? Director Rocco Urbisci's adroitly snarky staging perfectly captures the feverish, snake oil-and-adrenaline-filled atmosphere of one of these seminars, assisted by the cheesiness of Stewart Turner's appropriately cheesy slideshow. Rubin's message is drolly ironic. "Failure IS an option!" gushes Rubin, all charisma and inner emptiness, as he preaches a unique and often depressing new religion of mediocrity. Although this is material that, frankly, wears thin after even a couple of moments and plays like a retread of a Saturday Night Live sketch, Rubin's gleeful onstage persona engagingly blends Tony Robbins with the nebbishyness of Albert Brooks. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 22. Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, 310-394-9779, www.santamonicaplayhouse.com.