Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including an Unusual Look at Motherhood
This week's Stage Feature takes a look at Nina Raine's play Tribes at the Taper, in which one of the tribe's siblings is deaf. It's a fine family drama, largely about the divide between hearing and listening, though the production raises questions about whether an opulent theater like the Taper is necessarily the best space for a gritty play like Tribes.
THE LATEST NEW REVIEWS: scheduled for publication March 14, 2013:
ALABAMA LUGGAGE The unfortunate thread of sitcom humor running through Buddy Farmer's drama about adult survivors of sexual abuse is but one of the shortcomings plaguing Alabama Baggage, a play that doesn't appear terribly troubled by the notion of narrative coherence. Late one night, titular Alabaman Lucas (Ashley McGee) travels up to a Kentucky cemetery to pay his disrespects to Hal, a recently deceased "pillar of the community." The local sheriff, Ben (Will Blagrove, doing a noteworthy job of trying to bring some grounding to a particularly disjointed character), catches him there with his pants down. His first instinct is to arrest Lucas. His second, evidently, is to spend the rest of the night struggling to hold a thin plot together through wildly unmotivated emotional swings. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 14. (323) 960-7711, plays411.com/baggage, theatreasylum-la.com. (Mindy Farabee)
BELZ! THE JEWISH VAUDEVILLE MUSICAL
|L to R: Andy Hirsch, Vano Kimmel, Charlie Stabile|
An ersatz cross between Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret, writer and director Pavel Cerny's 1979 show enjoyed a successful 1984 run at the now defunct Callboard Theatre. But like the Callboard, the show's best days may be behind it. The story follows aspiring Jewish comedian Hugo Schwartz (Andy Hirsch) from a 1917 shtetl in Galicia (modern Ukraine) to New York. Episodes in Hugo's life are interspersed with cabaret numbers featuring Jewish shtick and songs in Yiddish, Hungarian, Czech and German, accompanied by Ait Fetterolf's live piano. Though the history provides fascinating source material and designer Travis Thi artfully costumes over 50 characters, the timeworn jokes fall flat, the songs are delivered with scant emotion and the ensemble generally lacks the chutzpah necessary to pull off vaudeville material in this jaded age. The frequent blackouts, sudden shifts from humor to pathos and back, and uncomfortably on-the-nose dialogue all limit the effectiveness of both the show's humor and its tender moments. While an older Jewish audience may appreciate the nostalgia the evening conjures, a firmer directorial hand might allow others the same experience. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 14. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/276015 (Mayank Keshaviah)
THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS IDSCARIOT Just when you hope that the final nail has been driven into the coffin of the celestial courtroom drama, along comes playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis with a pry bar and this misguided exhumation from 2005. The theological paradoxes at the heart of Guirgis' wide-ranging meditation on pride, divine mercy and the possibility of redemption have all been handled far more adroitly elsewhere (i.e., Michael Tolkin's 1991 film The Rapture). Here, Guirgis employs a Purgatory criminal court (on Caley Bisson's drab set) to debate the fate in the afterlife of the play's titular Christ betrayer (Robert Walters). A prosecutor (Robert Paterno) and defense attorney (Sharon Freedman) grill an assortment of biblical characters and church fathers -- all in archly anachronistic New York City street drag. Apart from a show-stealing cameo by John Gentry as Pontius Pilate, director Patrick Riviere's muddied staging is unable to inject dramatic insight or urgency into Guirgis' tendentious excuse for a Jesuitical catechism class. Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through April 6. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/314649. (Bill Raden)
PICK OF THE WEEK: MOMMUNE
Dorothy Fortenberry's world premiere, Mommune, spirits us to a not-too-distant future where women get national maternity leave and unfit mothers sidestep prison with sentences at minimum-security re-education centers. Chalk Repertory Company's site-specific approach transforms a contemporary kids learning center into one of these cheery gulags and audience members into "pre-parents," shepherded through their government-mandated pre-conception counseling requirements. The failures of these "bad mothers" are real enough; several are ripped-from-the-headlines accounts of poor parenting. The distrustful Charlotte (Hilary Ward) arrives at the "mommune" fresh from her high-stakes lab research, and immediately butts heads with "momtor" Mrs. Jensen (a regal Ursaline Bryant). Her fellow inmates -- a lesbian Christian, a former pageant queen and a voluntary mute -- aim to rack up enough points for "assessment" and eventual reunion with their children, but Charlotte's antagonism and refusal to follow simple rules challenges the intended day-spa atmosphere. The actors mine the satire for laughs, but Larissa Kokernot's deft direction points to the self-punishing tragedy behind the cult of mommydom. The play's steady pacing loses focus toward the end, although Fortenberry's setup doesn't lend itself to easy answers. The cast's engagement with the space is ingenious, but audiences should be prepared to relocate and stand through parts of the show. (Jenny Lower). Saturdays, Sundays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 7, chalkrep.com. Pint Size Kids, 13323 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 310-339-7452, www.pintsizekids.com.
SONGS OF BILITIS
|Aryiel Hartman (center) as "Bilitis"|
French writer Pierre Louys titillated literary circles with erotic lesbian poems that he claimed were the writings of an ancient Greek courtesan. Adapted from Louys' 1891 book, this multi-media piece centers on Pierre (Christopher Rivas), a self-indulgent libertine (Louys' alter-ego?) who guzzles liquor, imbibes drugs and loves to screw his tantalizing Algerian mistress (Estela Garcia). Their sex life decelerates, however, after Pierre begins to obsess over an imaginary woman, Bilitis (Aryiel Hartman), and her carnal journey from innocent to whore. Both Rivas and Garcia are terrific as the hapless debauchee and his earthy seductress, respectively, and so long as the play loiters in Pierre's here and now, it's fun to watch. But each time Katie Polebaum's script ventures into Pierre's imagination, the production loses steam. Director Sean T. Calweti marshals some fanciful stagecraft, but it never quite coheres, nor does it compensate for a sophomoric narrative and innocuous characters. Matt Hill's fantastic videography lights up the stage; it's a feast for the eyes and deserves a better story.Rogue Artists Ensemble at Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Westlake; Fri.-Sat. 7:30 p.m.; through March 30. (213) 389-3856, bootlegtheater.org. (Deborah Klugman)
GO TRIBES Nina Raine's story of a deaf boy. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Sat., March
16, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 17, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues
through April 14. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles,
213-628-2772. See Stage Feature
GO THE TROUBLE WITH WORDS
Composer and musical director Gregory Nabours' 90-minute musical is smart, sexy, funny and heartbreaking, with 18 appealing songs (five of them new for this production). Presented as the opening number, the title tune is catchy enough to hook you in immediately. The attractive and searingly talented cast of six -- Julianne Donelle, Aimee Karlin, Jamie Mills, Chris Roque, Ryan Wagner and Robert Wallace -- sings and dances their way through a thematically connected song cycle. The show dispenses with the typical musical storyline. Rather, it adroitly explores the complexities of communication in a contemporary urban world, examining issues of isolation, romance and sexual attraction. "Gotta Get Laid" is crude and hilariously forthright, while "The Busiest Corner in Town," a song about feeling alone in a bustling city, features Karlin's heart-wrenching solo backed by pretty themes on piano, strings, flute and acoustic guitar. The six equally accomplished musicians (also onstage, and led by Nabours on piano) perform everything from tender, plaintive ballads to rock-infused numbers to jazz and tango-flavored tunes. Janet Roston's choreography is sublime. The theater company does not charge for admission -- you can pay what you wish at the end of the show. And trust me, after you see The Trouble With Words, you'll be happy to open your wallet. Coeurage Theatre Company at Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through March 31. (323) 944-2165, coeurage.secureforce.com/ticket (Pauline Adamek)
UNIDENTIFIED HUMAN REMAINS AND THE TRUE NATURE OF LOVE Canadian playwright Brad Fraser's dated dramedy about love, sex and murder among some forlorn adults is a bloodless mingling of B-movie swill, psycho thriller and soft porn. While a serial killer butchers the women of Edmonton, David (Thomas Nyman) and his roomie Candy (Sydney Davis) seek a change from their moribund love lives. David eventually falls for the naïve Kane (Gordon James Jr.), and Candy, after receiving some delightful cunnilingus, gets involved with a lesbian (Phaedra DeLeigh) and, later, a handsome bartender (Eduardo Castro). The aimless bed-jumping is complicated by David's troubled friend Bernie (Mike Hennessey) -- who has a strange habit of showing up at David's door at all hours of the night soaked in blood -- and a prostitute with psychic powers (Martina Njoku) who eventually makes a startling revelation about the identity of the killer. It's all dreadfully wearisome and mundane, the more so because of Johnny Cole's ponderous direction and mediocre cast performances. Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Mid-City; Fri.-Sat., 8 pm.; Sun. 2:30 p.m.; through March 17. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/348075. (Lovell Estell III)
GO UNSCREENED Four writers are represented in this evening of short plays: In Laura & Sebastian, written and directed by Daria Polatin, Sebastian (Joshua Leonard), in an effort to prove he can be spontaneous, takes Laura (Brooke Bloom), whom he has just met, to his family's cabin in the woods -- but his plans go awry when he finds his randy brother (John Forest) shtupping his girlfriend, Bliss (Kelli Garner), on the dining room table. Mallory Westfall's Tree House Apocalypse, directed by Anna Christopher, deals with Alexis (Lindsay Pearce), who, amid apocalyptic events, takes refuge in her childhood tree house, only to find it occupied by a strange young man (Chris Starr). The tense Two Clean Rooms, written and directed by Will Wissler Graham, is set in the Vietnam War era and focuses on a young officer (Robert Baker) who's accused of homosexuality, and is relentlessly hounded by a fanatical, semi-psychotic interrogating officer (Nate Corddry). The funny His Girl, written by Corinne Kingsbury and directed by Colin Campbell, examines the plight of a man (a hilariously flustered Spencer Garrett) with a penchant for S&M, who arranges a tryst with a prostitute (Lindsay Kraft) who proves to be someone he knows all too well. It's hilariously cynical, despite a last-minute turn toward sentimentality. Graham's play seems a bit dated, though it's engrossing enough, while the other plays are amusing but slight. Presented by Black Sheep Management & Productions & Firefly: Theatre and Film at The Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hlywd.; Sat.-Mon., 8 p.m.; through March 24. (800) 838-3006, UnscreenedLA.com (Neal Weaver)
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGION-WIDE:
Divorce Party: The Musical: Mark Schwartz's jukebox musical -- a sort of fun, sometimes embarrassing and frequently excruciating spectacle -- gives new lyrics (by Jay Falzone) to oldie hits. "Gay, oh: He's so gay-oh, your husband's so gay," set to "Day-O" or an exegesis on pubic-hair styles, set to the title song of the musical Hair. Based on Dr. Amy Botwinick's book Congratulations on Your Divorce: The Road to Finding Your Happily Ever After, this is a saucy, phallus-obsessed satire of all things attached to women's single life today, from pubic-hair chic to sex toys to the reframing of divorce from something associated with failure and shame to something associated with freedom and opportunity. Because our 50 percent divorce rate serves up way more failure than any society wishes to embrace, change the meaning of the D-word to something uplifting, as this musical does, and you're doing your part to end human misery -- that's the underlying philosophy here. Divorce Party: The Musical aims to be both a lampoon of social stereotypes and a confessional about getting through. (Steven Leigh Morris). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 6 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through April 14, divorcepartythemusical.com. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-508-4200, www.elportaltheatre.com. See Stage Feature.
End of the Rainbow: Judy Garland (Tracie Bennett) prepares her latest comeback, circa 1968, in Peter Quilter's drama. Starting March 20, Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through April 21. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.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 17. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.
Melancholia: Written by Latino Theater Lab, directed by Jose Luis Valenzuela. Presented by the Latino Theater Company. Starting March 16, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 6. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.
GO: Odysseo: Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through March 31, $34.50-$149.50. Under the Big Top/Downtown Burbank, 777 N. Front St., Burbank, 866-999-8111, www.cavalia.net.
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.
Red: Staged reading of John Logan's play, presented by L.A. Theatre Works. Fri., March 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 16, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., March 17, 4 & 7:30 p.m., latw.org. James Bridges Theater, 1409 Melnitz Hall, Westwood, 310-206-8365.
Shamrock-N-Roll at the Playhouse: Community concert event celebrating Saint Patrick's Day and the opening of One Night With Janis Joplin, with performances by Dread Zeppelin, Cerny Brothers, Shillaly Brothers, Aquarius, and the Cherry Boom Boom dancers. Sun., March 17, 1-10 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.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." (Bill Raden). Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 10, 800-838-3006, agonyecstasy.brownpapertickets.com. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
Alabama Baggage: The unfortunate thread of sitcom humor running through Buddy Farmer's drama about adult survivors of sexual abuse is but one of the shortcomings plaguing Alabama Baggage, a play that doesn't appear terribly troubled by the notion of narrative coherence. Late one night, titular Alabaman Lucas (Ashley McGee) travels up to a Kentucky cemetery to pay his disrespects to Hal, a recently deceased "pillar of the community." The local sheriff, Ben (Will Blagrove, doing a noteworthy job of trying to bring some grounding to a particularly disjointed character), catches him there with his pants down. His first instinct is to arrest Lucas. His second, evidently, is to spend the rest of the night struggling to hold a thin plot together through wildly unmotivated emotional swings. (Mindy Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 14, 323-960-7711, plays411.com/baggage. Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, www.theatreasylum-la.com.
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. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 23, plays411.com/complete. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-852-1445, www.matrixtheatre.com.
Don Juan: It's difficult to imagine the infamous seducer of women as a swashbuckling Southern gentleman, but director Steven Sabel has pulled it off somewhat, in an adaptation that's not without problems. With a nod to Molière's untidy rendition of the story, Sabel sets the action of the play in the antebellum South (the erratic regional accents and a prominently displayed Confederate flag are the only indicators of this), with Dustin Lovell doing the honors as Don Juan. Upon returning to the town where his beloved Donna Elvire (a fine performance by Michelle Farivar) lives, the honey-tongued scoundrel is targeted for revenge by Donna's brothers (Doug Mattingly, Neil Miller) and woos the lovely Mathurine (Lila Bassior) and Charlotte (Mamie Wilhelm), both of whom he plans to marry. It gets laughs intermittently, but the physical comedy is overworked, the performances are glaringly uneven and Sabel's script is sluggish and overwritten. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 16. Archway Studio/Theatre, 305 S. Hewitt St., Los Angeles, 213-237-9933, www.archwayla.com.
Dreamgirls: Presented by Doma Theatre Company. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 14, domatheatre.com. The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, 323-957-1152, www.themettheatre.com.
GO: Hattie ... What I Need You to Know: Before there was a Sidney Poitier, a Denzel Washington, a Morgan Freeman or a Halle Berry, there was Hattie McDaniel. In the engaging bio-musical Hattie ... What I Need to Know, Vickilyn Reynolds honors the life of this extraordinary entertainer, who in 1940 became the first African-American to win an Oscar with her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind. Fittingly, the show opens with a video of that historic evening, after which Reynolds (who bears a noticeable resemblance to McDaniel) appears onstage and, for two hours, does a beguiling job of bringing McDaniel to life. Reynolds' script covers a lot of ground and could use some tightening, and at times her loose, conversational style distracts and meanders. Still, she and director Byron Nora succeed in making McDaniel's story an entertaining experience, recounting her early days singing in a gospel choir; difficulties with her overprotective parents; a string of unhappy marriages; struggles with racism in and outside of Hollywood; and her slow, determined rise to success, which ultimately placed her in the friendly company of stars like Clark Gable, Mae West, Bing Crosby and Marlene Dietrich. As interesting as this all is, the real payoff is hearing Reynolds sing the selection of jazz, blues and gospel songs with commanding artistry and passion. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through April 14, 323-960-5774. Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-4252, www.hudsontheatre.com.
Sketches From the National Lampoon: After a rocky couple of decades -- its most recent CEO was sentenced to 50 years for fraud in December, long before the former gold standard of comedy pimped out its brand with lowbrow gross-outs (see: Van Wilder) -- the company is angling, yet again, for a comeback. Founder Matty Simmons has returned as producer, with a documentary, Broadway musical and other projects in development. But this talent-packed revival of stage and radio sketches directed by Pat Towne only awakens nostalgia for when NL was still cutting-edge, and not for the stale humor itself. Painfully patched over with shiny new references to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, the bits take aim at targets that were exposed, if not thoroughly dismantled, long ago. Grandma fetishes and swinger wives barely register in our Dan Savage age. The talent onstage probably could power a weekly show at the Upright Citizens Brigade, but as for the material, the times, they have a-changed. (Jenny Lower). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 & 7 p.m. Continues through March 17, 323-337-1546, nationallampoon.com. Hayworth Theatre, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, www.thehayworth.com.
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 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.
On the Spectrum: Ken LaZebnik's "not your (neuro)typical love story." Starting March 16, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 28. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com.
Round Rock: Written and directed by Aaron Kozak, produced by Theatre Unleashed. Starting March 21, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 27. Studio Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles, 323-463-3900, www.studio-stage.com.
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. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 14, 702-582-8587, katselastheatre.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.
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.
Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh's novel, adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through April 13, 323-960-7785, plays411.com/trainspotting. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Tomorrow: Skylight Theatre Company, Rogue Machine, and York Theatre Royal present Donald Freed's new play. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through April 21, 702-582-8587, ktcla.com. Skylight Theater, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.
GO: The Trouble With Words: Composer and musical director Gregory Nabours' 90-minute musical is smart, sexy, funny and heartbreaking, with 18 appealing songs (five of them new for this production). Presented as the opening number, the title tune is catchy enough to hook you in immediately. The attractive and searingly talented cast of six -- Julianne Donelle, Aimee Karlin, Jamie Mills, Chris Roque, Ryan Wagner and Robert Wallace -- sings and dances their way through a thematically connected song cycle. The show dispenses with the typical musical storyline. Rather, it adroitly explores the complexities of communication in a contemporary urban world, examining issues of isolation, romance and sexual attraction. "Gotta Get Laid" is crude and hilariously forthright, while "The Busiest Corner in Town," a song about feeling alone in a bustling city, features Karlin's heart-wrenching solo backed by pretty themes on piano, strings, flute and acoustic guitar. The six equally accomplished musicians (also onstage, and led by Nabours on piano) perform everything from tender, plaintive ballads to rock-infused numbers to jazz and tango-flavored tunes. Janet Royston's choreography is sublime. The theater company does not charge for admission -- you can pay what you wish at the end of the show. And trust me, after you see The Trouble With Words, you'll be happy to open your wallet. (Pauline Adamek). 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.
Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love: Canadian playwright Brad Fraser's dated dramedy about love, sex and murder among some forlorn adults is a bloodless mingling of B-movie swill, psycho thriller and soft porn. While a serial killer butchers the women of Edmonton, David (Thomas Nyman) and his roomie Candy (Sydney Davis) seek a change from their moribund love lives. David eventually falls for the naïve Kane (Gordon James Jr.), and Candy, after receiving some delightful cunnilingus, gets involved with a lesbian (Phaedra DeLeigh) and, later, a handsome bartender (Eduardo Castro). The aimless bed-jumping is complicated by David's troubled friend Bernie (Mike Hennessey) -- who has a strange habit of showing up at David's door at all hours of the night soaked in blood -- and a prostitute with psychic powers (Martina Njoku) who eventually makes a startling revelation about the identity of the killer. It's all dreadfully wearisome and mundane, the more so because of Johnny Cole's ponderous direction and mediocre cast performances. (Lovell Estell III). Fri., March 15, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 16, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 17, 2:30 p.m., 800-838-3006. Chromolume Theatre, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, www.chromolume-theatre.com.
Valentine's Triage: Frank Strausser's Valentine's Day play set in an emergency room. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m. Continues through March 31, TheBlank.com. The Blank Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-661-9827, www.theblank.com.
Veronica's Room: This 1973 thriller by Ira Levin is less well known than his play Deathtrap, and methinks for good reason. An elderly couple (Karen Kahler, Patrick Skelton) invites a youthful one (Amelia Gotham, Mark Souza) to an old mansion where the former worked as servants for decades. Seeming kindly, they have a strange request: for the girl, Susan, to pose as the much-loved, long-dead sister of their cancer-ridden employer, so the old woman can die happy. Susan naively agrees and soon is propelled into a terrifying nightmare and fears for her life. Camped up, the ludicrous scenario might play well; otherwise, only masterful performances all around could make its silliness palatable. Director Dan Spurgeon deftly coordinates the action within the tiny proscenium, but the ensemble is mired in the melodrama. Production values are appropriate except for Susan's hairdo, which is way too modern for the period. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through March 30, thevisceralcompany.com. Underground Theatre, 1312-1314 N. Wilton Place, Los Angeles, 323-251-1154, www.undergroundtheater.com.
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, roadtheatre.org. NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles.
Benched: Richard Broadhurst's play about a depressed elderly man rescued from the brink of suicide by a solicitous angel of death strives to be wise and poignant but comes off as sappy and conventional. Planning to poison himself while sitting on his favorite park bench, Max (Eddie Jones) gets rattled when he finds it occupied by a laid-back guy named Randall (John Towey), who refuses to move. The two cross verbal swords, after which Randall reveals his celestial status and launches a campaign to persuade Max to live out his natural lifespan. The plot meanders through a series of capricious coincidences that undercut the story's internal logic. Meanwhile, details about Max's life and what has driven him to this desperate point are sparse, so the performers must fill in the gaps. Jones is disappointingly one-note in displaying anger and depression, while Towey has yet to develop an interesting persona. Anita Khanzadian directs. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through March 24, interactla.org. Avery Schreiber Theater, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-766-9100.
Coming to America: Transformations: Written and performed by Stephanie Satie. Sun., March 17, 3 p.m.; Mon., March 18, 7 p.m., 866-811-4111. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, www.fremontcentretheatre.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, 818-605-5685, www.crowncitytheatre.com.
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.
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). 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.
Urban Death: Zombie Joe's Underground's horror stories. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through April 27. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUATED ON THE WESTSIDE AND IN BEACH TOWNS:
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 blowjob; 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.
Chapter Two: Neil Simon's romantic comedy. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wed., March 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., March 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., March 24, 2 p.m.; Thu., April 4, 8 p.m. Continues through April 6. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.
GO: A Heap of Livin': In Elliot Schoenman's evocative family drama, Lawrence Pressman plays iconic folk singer "Ramblin'" Harry Roe, whose impeccable, 1960s left-wing credentials include marching with Dr. King, singing with Pete Seeger and protesting at Kent State. Now elderly and frail, sustained mainly by his memories of the good old days, Harry's a crotchety penance to his two long-suffering daughters. Older daughter Pearl (a marvelously brittle Didi Conn) has served daddy like a drudge through his declining years, while younger daughter Eden (Jayne Brook) has fled across the country to avoid having anything to do with her neglectful papa. On the eve of a massive tribute concert set to honor Ramblin' Harry, the sisters confront their varying degrees of resentment and rage. Schoenman's play is functionally a drama about children confronting the role of being caregivers for an increasingly recalcitrant elder, but the piece also thoughtfully encompasses a debate on the regrets of children forced to live in a genius parent's shadow. Although Schoenman's dialogue occasionally veers awkwardly into the realm of soapy melodrama, director Mark L. Taylor's production crackles with heartfelt emotion. Brook's prissy Eden and Conn's rumpled, increasingly bitter Pearl are great turns, but they ultimately orbit Pressman's powerful portrayal of a steely, idealistic artist. (Paul Birchall). 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.
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 Stage Feature.
See Rock City: Arlene Hutton's study of young married life in 1940s rural Kentucky. Sun., March 17, 2 p.m.; Fri., March 22, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 23, 8 p.m.; Wed., March 27, 8 p.m.; Thu., March 28, 8 p.m. Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St., San Pedro, 310-512-6030, www.littlefishtheatre.org.