Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including a Gripping Drama About the Reverberations of a Death
|L to R: Christine Breihan, Inger Tudor, Michelle Hilyard, Brad C. Light and Lauren Letherer|
Plays from early 20th century America certainly provide a frame for life in the early 21st. Works by Eugene O'Neill and John Steinbeck provide the material for this week's Theater Feature -- the former by The Wooster Group and New York City Players at REDCAT (now closed) and the latter in a very moving production at A Noise Within of Frank Galati's adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath.
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication February 28, 2013:
THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS
GO COMPLETE Playwright Andrea Kuchlewska combines unlikely ingredients in her comedy: an est-like training program for self-realization, the art/science of linguistics and a stormy love affair involving a pair of obsessive linguists. Eve (Meredith Bishop) and Micah (Scott Kruse) may be experts in the arts of language, but that doesn't mean they can communicate. He has been trying for ages to tell her that he loves her, but she refuses to acknowledge that anything but love of language unites them -- and she never stops talking. In desperation, he signs up for a course with "take control of your life" guru Jack (Scott Victor Nelson) in the hopes that it will enable him to confess his love. But Eve has an intense love-hate relationship with the program, so it becomes one more obstacle. Also present is a little girl named Evie (Tess Oswalt), who may or may not be a childhood incarnation of Eve. The play is always interesting and fun to watch, and director Jennifer Chambers keeps the comedy in the forefront, but the insistently nonlinear structure sometimes proves distracting. Credibility also is an issue. Eve is such a fanatic, intellectual bully and egocentric blabbermouth that one wonders why Micah bothers. Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners and Wilder Theatrics at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs,-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (Sun, March 24, 2 p.m., no eve perf); through March 30. (323) 960-7822 , plays411.com/complete. (Neal Weaver)
THE EARLY PLAYS
|Courtesy of The Wooster Group|
|Alex Delinois and Kevin Hurley|
GO A FAMILY THING The screwed-up clan on display in Gary Lennon's densely bleak comedy gives new resonance to Tolstoy's renowned adage about how every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Turmoil and pain are woven into the DNA of the three Burns brothers of Hell's Kitchen. The oldest, Frank (Saverio Guerra), is a coke addict with a volcanic temper, no job and a wife (Andrea Grano) he despises. Baby brother Sean (Sean Wing) is a gay TV writer, who is first seen preparing to commit suicide off the Brooklyn Bridge; he's stopped by a passerby (Darryl Stephens), who later becomes his lover. Just out of prison, Jim (Johnny Messner), a hulky, tattooed mass of bully-boy attitude and wrath, has vowed to kill Sean because he's gay and Frank because he thinks he snitched him out to the cops. Working it out is what this bunch is ultimately forced to do and, notwithstanding the unpleasant circumstances, it's a load of laughs to watch. Lennon can write funny; he is also a virtuoso of gritty, in-your-face dialogue, and his well-crafted script gives PC niceties the heave-ho. These are engaging, splendidly flawed characters, and the cast turn in vigorous, entertaining performances under Chris Fields' savvy direction. Stage 52, 5299 W. Washington Blvd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 17. (877) 369-9112, echotheatercompany.com. (Lovell Estell III)
GO THE GRAPES OF WRATH
|Deborah Strang and Steve Coombs|
|Christian Lloyd and Gregory Itzin|
GO SHIRLEY VALENTINE
|Dee Dee Rescher|
|JR Reed and Maia Peters|
PICK OF THE WEEK: WHAT MAY FALL:
|L to R: Christine Breihan, Inger Tudor, Michelle Hilyard, Brad C. Light and Lauren Letherer|
The Bird House: World premiere of Diane Glancy's play. Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17. Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, 323-667-2000, www.theautry.org.
Christmas in Hanoi: Some ghosts wear sweatpants and Harvard hoodies, while others appear shrouded in fog or hunched on human chests like succubi -- but the metaphysical implications of those distinctions remain hazy in Eddie Borey's world premiere, winner of the East West Players Faces of the Future playwriting contest. Directed by Jeff Liu, the family drama examines the legacy of the "American War" through mixed-race siblings -- a stoner, acupuncturist beach bro and his brittle, anesthesiologist sister -- who make a pilgrimage to Vietnam a year after their mother's death. Borey tackles important questions, but their power is obscured by more fundamental concerns over clarity and structure. In striving to metaphorize the country's wounded underbelly, Borey pushes toward a supernatural climax that seems lifted from one of his horror screenplays. Further development by the relatively young Borey may help dimensionalize the characters (Elizabeth Liang's Winnie especially suffers from almost unjust self-righteousness) and season its already rich premise. (Jenny Lower). 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: 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. (Neal Weaver). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 10, $45-$75. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
The Grapes of Wrath: John Steinbeck's Dust Bowl novel, adapted by Frank Galati. Sun., March 3, 2 & 8 p.m.; Mon., March 4, 2 p.m.; Sun., March 24, 2 & 8 p.m.; Thu., April 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., April 12, 8 p.m.; Sat., April 20, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 21, 2 p.m.; Fri., May 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., May 11, 2 & 8 p.m. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org. See Stage feature
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'll Be Back Before Midnight: The tone of Peter Colley's thriller hews closer to the telegraphed setups of a slasher film than to the psychological terror of Hitchcock. Though widely produced and even adapted into a 1992 made-for-TV movie, the script has had persistent issues throughout its history: a thin premise, vaguely sketched characters and hackneyed gags, leaving a few chilling thrills to hold the piece together. Those thrills hit the mark when they do arrive, enhanced by both the foreboding upstage space in Stephen Gifford's set and Drew Dalzell's hair-raising sound design. Playing out those thrills are Greg (Tyler Pierce, whose chiseled physique hardly suggests "bookish scientist") and his wife, Jan (Joanna Strapp, who delivers quite a blood-curdling scream), who have come to the country to repair their marriage. Their whiskey-loving neighbor, George (Ron Orbach), and Greg's incestually creepy sister, Laura (Kate Maher), drop in, and mayhem ensues. The actors are strong and have done good work around town, but their talents and Colley and David Rose's direction aren't enough to disguise the holes in the writing. (Mayank Keshaviah). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Continues through March 3. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
One Night With Janis Joplin: Musical tribute to the rock legend, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson. Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 & 8 p.m. Continues through April 11. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
GO: Shirley Valentine:The omnipresent glass of white wine rarely out of reach for DeeDee Rescher's English matron is a perfect metaphor for the title character in Willy Russell's solo piece, which premiered in 1988. Stuck in a drab kitchen in Liverpool, Shirley Valentine, like her favorite libation, sparkles amidst her unremarkable surroundings: a grumpy, detached husband; adult children who only come home when they need something; nosy neighbors trying to escape their own pedestrian lives. Valentine's bright eyes, winsome smile and lively manner cut through the beige of it all, as she recounts stories from her life and dreams of someday drinking wine "in a country where the grape is grown." As luck would have it, her friend Jane has offered her a trip to Greece, but Valentine spends the first act working up the courage because, as she admits to the wall she frequently engages in conversion, she's frightened of life beyond it. While steeling her resolve, she putters about her kitchen, cooking, drinking and sharing -- a fluidity of movement that's a credit to Andrew Barnicle's subtle direction. Russell's writing, with its strong feminist undercurrent, picks up in the second act, and both Rescher and Bruce Goodrich's wonderfully detailed set undergo a real transformation. Valentine's newfound joie de vivre makes her an even more charming and warm raconteur, as captivating as the message she delivers about really living life. Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through March 3. (818) 955-8101, falcontheatre.com. (Mayank Keshaviah)
ONGOING SHOWS SITUATED 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.; Sun., March 3, 7 p.m.; Thu., March 7, 8 p.m.; Fri., March 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 7 p.m. Continues through March 2, $20. Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, 310-281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: There are several moments late in Alex Lyras' fascinating performance of Mike Daisey's controversial monologue when Lyras drops the mask of his nameless, first-person investigative narrator and directly pleads for the evening's truth claims as Alex Lyras, actor. The asides are as tantalizing as they are telling. Because experiencing Lyras and director Robert McCaskill's staging of Daisey's Michael Moore-esque mix of polemics and sardonic reportage is to feel weirdly double-distanced from the actuality of its subject -- the harshly impoverished working conditions of Apple's Chinese iPhone and iPad plants. Despite Lyras' persuasive delivery, the show never quite shakes the penumbra of question marks raised by Daisey's own admitted fabrications of his reporting trip to China (said material since excised). The force of each incendiary revelation and Tim Arnold's accompanying photojournalistic video projections somehow feels diminished unaccompanied by a fact-checking footnote that goes beyond the piece's now bitterly ironic emotive linchpin, Lyras as Daisey declaring, "Trust me! I was there." Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Wed., 8 p.m.; through April 10. (800) 838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. (Bill Raden)
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.
GO: Complete:Playwright Andrea Kuchlewska combines unlikely ingredients in her comedy: an est-like training program for self-realization, the art/science of linguistics and a stormy love affair involving a pair of obsessive linguists. Eve (Meredith Bishop) and Micah (Scott Kruse) may be experts in the arts of language, but that doesn't mean they can communicate. He has been trying for ages to tell her that he loves her, but she refuses to acknowledge that anything but love of language unites them -- and she never stops talking. In desperation, he signs up for a course with "take control of your life" guru Jack (Scott Victor Nelson) in the hopes that it will enable him to confess his love. But Eve has an intense love-hate relationship with the program, so it becomes one more obstacle. Also present is a little girl named Evie (Tess Oswalt), who may or may not be a childhood incarnation of Eve. The play is always interesting and fun to watch, and director Jennifer Chambers keeps the comedy in the forefront, but the insistently nonlinear structure sometimes proves distracting. Credibility also is an issue. Eve is such a fanatic, intellectual bully and egocentric blabbermouth that one wonders why Micah bothers. Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners and Wilder Theatrics at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Thurs,-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (Sun, March 24, 2 p.m., no eve perf); through March 30. (323) 960-7822 , plays411.com/complete. (Neal Weaver)
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.
Don Juan: Adapted and directed by Steven Sabel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 16. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
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, www.plays411.com/grand. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., 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, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 27, combinedartform.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-962-1632, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges: It comes as something of a surprise that this Casa 0101 production is L.A.'s first revival of Luis Valdez's wryly transgressive interrogation of Hollywood's jaundiced representation of Mexican-Americans. After all, the play had its 1986 premiere in a lavish production at LATC, and the industry's history of pandering to prejudice has hardly improved. That said, though director Hector Rodriguez adds some original sardonic touches, his staging never quite rises to the level of formal sophistication demanded by the text. Act 1, which introduces Monterey Park power couple Connie (Carmelita Maldonado) and Buddy Villa (Daniel E. Mora), isn't supposed to play with the banality of an insipid TV sitcom, it's meant to burlesque it. Things improve in Act 2 when the play's angry energy -- nicely articulated by Alex Valdivia as the Villas' Harvard-dropout son -- is finally unleashed in Valdez's hallucinatory, feverishly funny pastiche of movie genre tropes. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through March 10. Casa 0101, 2009 E. First St., Los Angeles, 323-263-7684, www.casa0101.org.
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.
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, www.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.
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: Sexsting: Playwright Doris Baizley consulted with defense attorney Anne Raffanti before writing this revealing one-act about a law-enforcement officer who realizes that the man he wants to entrap is not that different from himself. Estranged from his family, stressed-out FBI agent Richard Roe (Gregory Itzin) labors on a sting operation, visiting online chat rooms and posing as a young girl to provoke the interest of possible sex offenders. His latest assignment targets none-too-bright, middle-aged John (JD Cullum), who likes fishing and country music and whose marital sex life has stalled. But while John nurtures baneful fantasies about young teens, he does exercise self-control, trying hard to stay "just friends" with (he believes) the young female person he's met online. At his superior's insistence, however, Richard continues to entice John with revealing photos and pleas for them to meet -- all so the FBI can score an arrest. Baizley's setup is somewhat simplistic, but Itzin is riveting as a scrupulous man forced to act against his conscience. Cullum communicates smarminess and vulnerability, but his demeanor suggests he's talking to someone directly rather than communicating by email -- a fine point but one that nonetheless diminishes his credibility. Jim Holmes directs. Skylight Theatre Complex, 1816 ½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 14. (702) 582-8587, www.katselastheatre.com. (Deborah Klugman)
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. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 10, 859-893-5376. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-469-9988.
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.
To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Robert Nemiroff has taken some excerpts from diaries, political speeches and letters written by his former wife, Lorraine Hansberry, and combined them with scenes from her plays to assemble a sketch of the life, work and intelligence of this important and idealistic American playwright. To Be Young, Gifted and Black, however, is not a play. Rather, it is a series of staged monologues and duologues, with the cast of eight each taking their turn in a spotlight on simple risers. The subject matter is worthy and intellectual, and some of the excerpts are impassioned and impactful. It's largely serious with a few comedic observations sprinkled throughout, yet the staging and general tone of the evening are dull and slow. Additionally, ill-timed and sluggish lighting cues, along with perplexingly random sound effects, drag the show's length to two and a half hours. The cast all give fine if restrained performances, with some singing beautifully. Greyson Chadwick shines in a handful of dramatic and emotional scenes. (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., March 16, 2:30 p.m. Continues through March 17. Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.
The Trouble With Words: Gregory Nabours' song cycle, with choreography by Janet Roston. Starting March 2, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 31, 323-944-2165. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles.
Unscreened: Four world-premiere short plays by Will Wissler Graham, Corinne Kingsbury, Daria Polatin, and Mallory Westfall. Starting March 3, Mondays, Saturdays, Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 24, 800-838-3006, unscreenedla.com. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO: Walking the Tightrope: Given that so many examples of children's theater are simply appalling -- the equivalent of Muffin the Puppet singing "Sharing Is Caring and Obey your Parents" or some such rubbish -- what a pleasure it is to see a work, aimed at a young audience, that possesses both intellectual heft and genuinely involving emotion. Playwright Mike Kenny's drama Walking the Tightrope is about grief, but the handling of the subject is deft and nuanced, while also being told from a child's point of view. The play takes place in a British seaside town, circa 1950s, as little girl Esme (a beautifully gamine but not obnoxious Paige Lindsay White) arrives for her annual visit to her grandparents. She discovers that her grandmother is nowhere to be found and her sad grandfather (Mark Bramhall) fibs that she has gone to join the circus, a lie that Esme quickly realizes is meant to keep the old man from accepting the truth himself about his wife's passing. Richly evocative, director Debbie Devine's heartfelt production is touching and truthful without descending into mawkish sentimentality. Bramhall's crusty, grieving granddad and White's thoughtfully perky Esme are great together. Tony Duran also delivers a standout turn, as the ghostly presence of the grandmother's spirit. (Paul Birchall). Saturdays, 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 30. 24th Street Theater, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles, 213-745-6516, www.24thstreet.org.
PICK OF THE WEEK: What May Fall: In Peter Gil-Sheridan's thought-provoking drama What May Fall, a man plummets to his death from a Minnesota skyscraper. It's a terrible event (particularly for the poor fellow), but the random incident becomes the inciting incident for a meditation on how death affects us all. Death, of course, is everywhere and can happen anytime -- but our reaction to it is often unpredictable. For uptight business executive Mack (Nicholas S. Williams), the man's death forces him to confront the desire of his pregnant schoolteacher wife, Jo (Alana Dietze), to abort their possibly disabled child. For Mack's executive assistant, Mercy (a delightfully nebbishy Christopher Neiman), the death provides the impetus to take control over the art he wants to create. And for Arthur (Brad C. Light), a window washer who was the closest witness to the accident, the death throws up a mix of survivor's guilt and terror over the randomness of mortality. Gil-Sheridan's crisp dialogue-driven characters are interconnected in ways that may seem a tad coincidental, but director Mary Jo DuPrey's intimate staging artfully brings to mind the mood of ensemble films by Robert Altman. Performers subtly craft characters grappling with flaws, who change following the death -- and often not in the way one expects. Particularly effective turns are offered by Williams as an engagingly uptight (and somewhat tortured) business executive, by Neiman as a frustrated and bitter assistant and by Dietze as a brittle wife. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 23. (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com (Paul Birchall)
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.
Belz! The Jewish Vaudeville Musical: Written and directed by Pavel Cerny, with English lyrics by Charles Kondek. Starting March 2, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 14, brownpapertickets.com/event/276015. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
Company: Stephen Sondheim composed the lyrics and score to his innovative "concept musical" in 1970, with book by George Furth. For a comedy musical about love, it proves resolutely unromantic and honest. And, surprisingly, its acerbic wit and laserlike scrutiny of marriage, dating and relationships does not feel at all dated. Director Albert Marr's incorporation of cellphones and Facebook effortlessly adds a contemporary feel. The loose story centers on Robert (a charismatic Ben Rovner), a handsome, single, mid-30s New Yorker surrounded by well-meaning but smug married friends. Their cheerful efforts to push him toward joining their club are undermined by their conjugal lives, which are fundamentally flawed or dysfunctional. The ensemble's vocal skills are good but not stellar, though Julie Black sings brilliantly as funky girlfriend Marta. Also impressive is musical director William A. Reilly's furious piano and synth live accompaniment. Despite some appealing performances, this company's average Company barely matches Sondheim's marvelous material. (Pauline Adamek). 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.
Dark Play or Stories for Boys: Presented by the Young Actors Ensemble. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 3, brownpapertickets.com/event/316822. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-761-0704.
Doctor, Doctor!: Writer-director Randall Gray recklessly defies all the rules of dramaturgy -- and not in a good way. He sets his play in a combined medical practice that features a psychiatrist and former Nazi torturer (Mark Colbenson), his seemingly psychotic secretary (Wendy Rostker), a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood (Rick Lee), a dementedly sadistic dentist (manic Jon Christie) and a song-belting secretary who wins the lottery (Sara Jane Williams). The plot, such as it is, is a series of tenuously related incidents. Gray has turned the piece into a pseudo-musical by inserting, seemingly at random, some current hits and old chestnuts, including "I Will Survive," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha, Ha!" The mostly young and dedicated cast give their all to overcome inept script and direction. But ultimately it's just bad community theater. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 1 & 8 p.m. Continues through March 24. Stages of Gray, 299 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena, www.stagesofgray.com.
GO: Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground: Even transposed from 19th-century St. Petersburg to the urban wilderness of modern-day Los Angeles, Dostoevsky's hilariously unforgiving novella about the extremes of self-consciousness proves an excruciating roller-coaster plunge into hairpin-turned self-abasement. In this Zombie Joe-adapted musical abbreviation (adroitly directed by Josh T. Ryan), Michael Blomgren vividly brings Dostoevsky's self-lacerating antihero to life with a Rupert Pupkin-like intensity. Blomgren portrays a maniacally misanthropic member of the black-fingernail-polish demimonde -- a narcissistic, North Hollywood slacker "violently and shamefully aware," whose depths of self-pity and supreme pettiness are both paralytic and bottomless. Those depths reach their comic heights in the deranged contest of wills between the protagonist and his dourly laconic manservant, Apollo (a slyly understated TJ Alvarado). Leif La Duke, Julie Bermel and Chelsea Rose cannily caricature the dinner-reunion scene as an agonized study in nouveau riche Hollywood vulgarity, while Jenna Jacobson injects a note of aching pathos as the prostitute Liza. Ryan sets the proceedings into ironic relief with wittily staged renditions of existential rock & roll brooders such as Joy Division's "Atmosphere" (Alvarado), Daniel Johnston's "Devil Town" (Bermel, Jacobson, Rose) and Pink Floyd's "Hey You" (Jacobson and Alvarado). (Bill Raden). Fri., March 1, 8:30 p.m. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
Golden Girls Live: An All Male Parody: Performed at a gay bar, this show is ideal for people who are ardent fans of sitcom The Golden Girls -- and who also may have had a few drinks. Four male performers in drag enact a "lost episode" in which Dorothy's husband has died and the three other Girls fly in from Miami to lend her support. On one recent evening, a few performers were slow on their lines. While the riffs and gags didn't seem especially funny, the audience laughed heartily. (Deborah Klugman). Thursdays, Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17. Oil Can Harry's, 11502 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-760-9749, www.oilcanharrysla.com.
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.
Ladyhouse Blues: It's 1919. Times are changing. Workers are striking. Women are demanding the vote. Then as now, bigoted fundamentalists like Liz Madden (Kitty Swink), the Ozark-born matriarch in Kevin O'Morrison's flawed melodrama, are digging in their heels. Liz smirks at newfangled inventions like electricity and phones, denounces all things foreign, including the French language, and emphatically favors her son over her four daughters. A character like this can spark juicy drama, but this production, under Anne McNaughton's direction, is disappointingly bloodless, underscoring the contrived aspects of the script. Although the action takes place during a hot spell that people complain about, nobody sweats. The women peel potatoes and stir stuff, but nothing is out of place in the kitchen. The performances are variously off-key: As Liz's eldest daughter, Liza de Weerd displays remarkable vocalizing power for someone with TB. Swink, radiating little maternal warmth, vents Liz's biases in a chilly vacuum. (Deborah Klugman). Sundays, 2 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through March 24, 866-811-4111, www.Andak.org. New Place Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove St., North Hollywood.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: Stephen Adly Guirgis' controversial play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through April 6, brownpapertickets.com/event/314649. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank, 818-841-4404, www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.
The Baby Project: Book by Lori Jaroslow, music by Fonda Feingold and Noriko Olling, lyrics by Fonda Feingold and Lori Jaroslow. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17, www.roadtheatre.org. NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles.
Love Me Deadly: Matthew Sklar's ghost play, directed by Sebastian Muñoz. Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 24. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, www.zombiejoes.homestead.com.
My Big Gay Italian Wedding: Italian gay boy Anthony (Nick Losorelli) finally gets up the nerve to propose to his hunky, Polish boyfriend, Andrew (Josh Saleh), and tell his conservative parents, Angela (Mary Cavaliere) and Joseph (Robert Gallo), that he wants a big, traditional Italian wedding. They react with consternation -- "First Obama, now this!" -- but eventually come around. But Angela consents to the wedding only if Andrew's mother flies in from Florida for the occasion. When she refuses, Anthony's black friend, Rodney (Ronaldo Cox), agrees to impersonate her, in a blond wig. The farcical proceedings culminate in a wedding ceremony of (barely) controlled chaos, with two rival best men, feuding lesbian bridesmaids, a drunken Rodney and a flamboyant gay wedding planner (Matt Hudacs), all ending in traditional Italian dances. Both Anthony Wilkinson's script and Paul Storiale's direction tend toward the broad and obvious, but the enthusiastic audience didn't seem to mind. theatreunleashed.com. (Neal Weaver). Sat., March 2, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 3, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 10, 3 p.m.; Fri., March 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 16, 8 p.m. Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-761-0704.
Play On!: Rick Abbot's comedy about a theater group trying to stage a play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through March 24, abovethecurvetheatre.com. Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-506-3903, www.actorsworkout.com.
GO: Smoke and Mirrors: If you've forgotten the childlike joy and sublime wonderment of seeing magic performed, Albie Selznick's theatrical show is an enchanting reminder. The accomplished actor-magician puts on a bewildering tour de force that has more "how did he do that" flashes than can be counted. The show also has a personal element, as Selznick recounts his long path to becoming a master magician, starting when he lost his father at the age of 9 and used magic to escape reality, and then as a means of challenging and overcoming his fears. He knows how to work the crowd, and uses members of the audience in a number of his routines. Toward show's end, he swallows some razors (kids, don't try this), then regurgitates them on a long string, and wows with a demonstration of fire eating and juggling some wicked-looking knives. Other amazing moments are the eerie conjuring of doves out of nowhere and a mind-blowing exhibition of midair suspension. Like all good magicians, Selznick has highly capable assistants -- Brandy, Kyle, Tina and Daniel -- who dazzle with their own magic in a stylish preshow. Paul Millet directs. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 28, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Therapy: Jeff Bernhardt's story of three therapists and a patient. Starting March 2, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 17, 800-838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/322663. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, www.secretrose.com.
Urban Death: Zombie Joe's Underground's horror stories. Starting March 2, Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 27. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, www.zombiejoes.homestead.com.
GO: Caged: Not long ago, people regarded as exotic or subhuman were tossed into cages for the viewing pleasure of the American public. Such was the dreadful fate of Congo pygmy Ota Benga, who was displayed with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. In Charles Duncombe's world-premiere drama, Caged, Megan Kim and R.J. Jones are naked, snatched-from-the-jungle "noble savages," who, confined in a cage stocked with toys, convincingly channel primitive angst, lethargically striding about, communicating and reacting with grunts and violent upsurges and hitting each other playfully. Extended commentary about the exhibit is provided by a keeper (Katrina Nelson) and an interviewer (Leah Harf), whose theories and statements of facts are a bladed mix of the outrageously comical and idiotic. But it's the cavalcade of spectators and their assorted hang-ups that provide the wallop of humor and irony here: a boy with his parents wanting to see tricks; a man meeting another man for a blow job; several couples in distress, mirroring the plight of the captives; a lonely woman seeking affection; an elderly woman with a huge ax to grind. The contrasts and the heavy-handed subtext are striking -- and unsettling. Though not overly dramatic, Duncombe's smartly written script is delightfully provocative and insightful. Performances are sharply calibrated under Frederique Michel's direction. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Continues through March 24. City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, 310-453-9939, www.citygarage.org.
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: 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 May 19. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org. See Theater Feature
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.; Sat., March 2, 3 p.m. Continues through March 2. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.