Theater to See in L.A. This Week, Including Richard III In Overdrive
|Anna Gilchrist, W. Lochridge O'Bryan and Lee Kissman in Shakespeare's Richard III at Zombie Joe's Underground|
Zombie Joe's Underground and director Denise Devin turn Shakespeare's Richard III into an enthralling one-hour redux, says critic Jenny Lower. The production is this week's pick of the week. For all the latest new theater reviews, and comprehensive theater listings, see below.
Beauty to be found in dark places through art forms the centerpiece of two shows highlighted in this week's stage feature: A Fried Octopus at Bootleg, and Heart Song at the Fountain Theatre
Former L.A. Times Drama Critic Sylvie Drake remembers Lee Melville, local critic and editor who died last week: "A free-lancing career for various theatre publications ended when Bill Bordy, owner of the trade publication Drama-Logue, tapped Melville to become its editor.
"When Bordy sold Drama-Logue to Backstage in 1998, Melville took a sabbatical of a few years to handle a family business. But he couldn't stay away for long. Lars Hansen, a friend and the director of Theatre LA, a new service organization for Los Angeles theatres now known as L.A. Stage Alliance, asked Melville to help him start a print publication in 2001. The print magazine, called simply L.A. Stage, was published in print for nine years, switching to a digital format in 2009. . .Melville continued as editor-in-chief until Spring 2011, but stepped away after his health had taken a couple of direct hits when his partner of 20 years, Bo White, passed away and, in the same week, Melville lost his home to foreclosure. Melville leaves a significant legacy in the Los Angeles theater community as a man with great institutional knowledge and affection and admiration for artists. This respect was widely reciprocated. Many of these artists found in him not only a sensitive and knowledgeable advocate, especially in his later years, but a friend, supporter and mentor as well."
NEW THEATER REVIEWS, scheduled for publication May 30, 2013
|Cecil Burroughs and Jamye Grant|
GO: THE MATCHMAKER
|Juan Lozano and Lauren Jay Goss|
PICK OF THE WEEK: SHAKESPEARE'S RICHARD III
|Anna Gilchrist, W. Lochridge O'Bryan and Lee Kissman in "Shakespeare's Richard III" at Zombie Joe's Underground|
TO BEGIN THE WORLD ALL OVER AGAIN: THE LIFE OF THOMAS PAINE
|Thomas Paine Productions|
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
|Anthony Auer, Timothy Walker, Joan Boatright and Meg Wallace|
ONGOING SHOWS IN LARGER THEATERS REGIONWIDE:
Beautiful: A one-woman show, written and performed by Jozanne Marie, about victory over despair and strength in the face of abusive relationships. Directed by Geoffrey Rivas. Produced by The Latino Theater Company. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 16. Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, www.thelatc.org.
Chess: Like the 1980s, this revival of the Cold War-themed musical that produced the hit song "One Night in Bangkok" is kitschy, colorful and full of spectacle. Yet its return also reveals the contrived, confusing plot and threadbare characters that have perennially plagued this piece. That's to take nothing away from director Tim Dang and his ensemble, who embrace the source material and make it their own. Undergirding their efforts are Adam Flemming's cleverly tiered set and eye-catching projections, Anthony Tran's bold costumes, Dan Weingarten's kaleidoscopic lighting and Ken Takemoto's wonderfully detailed props. Dang chooses the through-sung U.K. version of the show, which heavily features his soloists, all of whom have great pipes. Joan Almedilla (Florence) soars, Elijah Rock (Anatoly) belts with gusto -- though, oddly, without a Russian accent -- and Carey Rebecca Brown (Svetlana) showcases delicate power. Victor E. Chan (Freddie) has moxie but runs hot and cold, while Ray A. Rochelle (Molokov) brings Bond-villain fun to the show. If only the story were as resonant as the vocals, this musical could really be something. (Mayank Keshaviah). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 23. East West Players, 120 N. Judge John Aiso St., Los Angeles, 213-625-7000, www.eastwestplayers.org.The Circus Is Coming to Town: Interactive kids play, presented by Storybook Theatre. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Continues through July 6. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
GO: Falling for Make Believe: The Colony Theatre's latest effort isn't quite there yet: Mark Saltzman's world-premiere musical about the wordsmith half of songwriting duo Rodgers and Hart requires polishing (and a hit would help get the faltering theater back on its feet). But for music lovers and nostalgic theater buffs, this revue directed by Jim Fall offers tender moments, two dozen of the pair's greatest hits and a sobering glimpse at the backstage paradox of Lorenz Hart -- snappy wit and lyric genius but a sodden, tormented closet case. Saltzman hangs the narrative on Fletcher (Tyler Milliron), a Pennsylvania Dutch farm boy who longs to hit it big, or at least find himself a talented boyfriend. After a series of go-nowhere run-ins with Hart (Ben Goldberg), the two finally connect and the play picks up tension and momentum. Their affecting dynamic creates the evening's most potent moments, but both seem slightly miscast: Saltzman's script calls for a hunkier farm boy and a homelier lyricist. Those discrepancies should be addressed, as should an oddly layered set design that leaves intimate scenes swimming in a cavernous space. Rebecca Ann Johnson adds pizzazz as Hart's Broadway muse, along with some dreamy renditions of "Bewitched" and "Blue Moon." (Jenny Lower). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 30, $29-$49. Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, 818-558-7000, www.colonytheatre.org.Fraternity: Set in a private club in 1987, Jeff Stetson's drama explores the journeys of seven successful black community leaders whose lives are forever affected by the tragic 1963 Alabama church bombing. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2. Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-964-9768, www.ebonyrep.org.
The Heiress: A staged reading of a story of New York society, wealth, and a daughter's heartfelt struggle for her father's love as she navigates through her own first relationship. Written by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on Henry James' novel Washington Square. Wed., June 5, 7 p.m., Free. A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.
GO: Joe Turner's Come and Gone: For this critic August Wilson has always been eloquent on the page, a bit wordy on the stage. This second in his 10-play chronicle of the African-American experience takes place in 1911, a bare 46 years after the Civil War ended. Wilson's vibrant characters are searching -- for love, money, personal freedom or healing and spiritual salvation. Some, like boardinghouse owners Seth (Keith David) and his wife, Bertha (Lillias White), have found their place. Others, like their wild-eyed new tenant, Herald Loomis (John Douglas Thompson), have been irreparably damaged by assaults on their personhood and dignity. Directed by Phylicia Rashad, beautifully framed by John Iacovelli's atmospheric set, with its dark orange and gold hues and misty horizon, the production captures the warmth and passion of a subculture still richly imbued with the magic and myth of its African heritage. Some performances are capable, others outstanding. Chief among the latter are Glynn Turman as the community conjurer and medicine man for broken hearts, and David as his prickly, practical-minded landlord, a money-minded fellow with no time for mumbo-jumbo. Also noteworthy are White as Seth's unflappable spouse, who provides sustenance to all, and Raynor Scheine as the eccentric white peddler he banters with. While these seasoned actors take the material and run with it, others could use stronger direction. (Deborah Klugman). Saturdays, 2:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 9, $45-$75. Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org
A Midsummer Night's Dream: A summer standard, this is the Theatricum's signature production of Shakespeare's wondrous enchanted forest tale of love, fairies, and the power of nature. Sun., June 2, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., June 8, 4 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., June 15, 4 p.m.; Sun., June 16, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., June 22, 4 p.m.; Sat., June 29, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., July 13, 4 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 1, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 8, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 15, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 22, 8 p.m.; Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 14, 4 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 22, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
Miss Julie: What many adapters have done to maintain the potency and relevance of Strindberg's once revolutionary play is to re-contextualize it to allow us to feel even a bit of what audiences experienced in 1888. Recent versions such as Yael Farber's Mies Julie (set in South Africa), Katie Mitchell's Fraulein Julie (told from Kristine's point of view using multimedia), and Ken Roht's Miss Julie(n) (a queer take on the tale) do just that. Neil LaBute, sadly, does not, and his 1929 Long Island setting adds little to the story of dangerous liaisons between upper-class Julie (Lily Rabe) and her father's valet John, (Logan Marshall-Green), who is simultaneously engaged to Kristine (Laura Heisler), the cook. Myung Hee Cho has created a picture-perfect period kitchen, and the amped-up sexuality is affecting at times, but the latter half of the piece, directed by Jo Bonney, becomes too pensive, leaving us more relieved than bowled over at its conclusion. (Mayank Keshaviah). Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through June 2. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, 310-208-5454, www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Next to Normal: A Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other. Music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, musical direction by Darryl Archibald, directed by Nick DeGruccio. Starting June 1, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 23. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, 562-944-9801, www.lamiradatheatre.com.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane: A young Jewish pianist tries to pursue her musical aspirations under a Nazi regime in 1938 Vienna. Based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 9. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.com.Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical: This spectacular Broadway musical, with over five-hundred Tony Award-winning costumes, is the uplifting story about a trio of friends whom hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love in the Australian outback, and end up finding more than they could have dreamed. Fri., May 31, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 1, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., June 4, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 5, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 8, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Tue., June 11, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 12, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 13, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 14, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 15, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 16, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayla.org.
GO: The Royale: Set in the boxing world of the early 1900s, Jay "The Sport" Jackson tries to fight for his place in history, despite the racial barriers in his way. Loosely inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, the first African American sports icon. Written by Marco Ramirez. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-09/stage/the-royale-marco-ramirez-hot-cat/full/. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Continues through June 2, $20-$50. Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
The Scottsboro Boys: A musical based on the infamous "Scottsboro" case from the 1930s, about nine unjustly accused African American men whose lives would eventually spark the Civil Rights Movement. Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Book by David Thompson. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m.; Thu., June 20, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 p.m.; Thu., June 27, 2 p.m. Continues through June 30. Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical: Based on the Tristar Pictures film Sleepless In Seattle, about a widower and his precocious son who is searching for the perfect mother. Book by Jeff Arch, music by Ben Toth, lyrics by Sam Forman. Musical Staging by Spencer Liff, directed by Sheldon Epps. Starting June 2, Sun., June 2, 5 p.m.; Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Continues through June 23. Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, 626-356-PLAY, www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
Solomon's Blade: A staged reading of the award-winning play, about a Jewish woman and her struggle over whether or not to let an Arab Israeli adopt her unborn niece. Written by Lisa Beth Allen and directed and produced by Louis Silvers. Sun., June 2, 7 p.m. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
Studio: Summer 2013: Part of the yearly interdisciplinary program for new and experimental performance works. This edition of Studio was curated by guest curators Aaron Drake and Ayana Hampton. Sat., June 1, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 7 p.m. REDCAT: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, 631 W. Second St., Los Angeles, 213-237-2800, www.redcat.org.
The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's rowdy romp about the lovely Bianca and h sister "Katherine the Cursed," who must be married off before Bianca is allowed to entertain suitors. Sat., June 1, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., June 8, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., June 15, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 16, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., June 23, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., June 30, 3:30 p.m.; Sat., July 6, 4 p.m.; Sun., July 7, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., July 14, 3:30 p.m.; Sun., July 28, 3:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 2, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 3, 4 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 10, 4 p.m.; Sun., Aug. 11, 3:30 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 16, 8 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 23, 8 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 24, 4 p.m.; Fri., Aug. 30, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Sept. 13, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 21, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 3:30 p.m. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com/index.html.
The Women: Clare Boothe Luce's 1936 play about the culture of spoiled, rich women preaches some pretty outdated ideas about how to keep your man, but it still sports colorful characters and clever dialogue and, in the right hands, can be fashioned into an entertaining production. This isn't one, however. Directed by Arden Teresa Lewis, the story revolves around Mary (Maria Kress), a gracious woman who discovers her husband has been cheating with a shopgirl (Caitlin Gallogly) and must decide whether to tolerate his philandering or divorce him. Mary has lots of bitchy acquaintances, especially Sylvia (Leona Britton), who have a field day dissecting their "friend's"s woes. Unfortunately, most of the performances are over-the-top caricatures; Kress in particular displays little emotional connection to Mary's pain. Dianne Travis as a feminist writer, Sandra Tucker as Mary's mother and Deborah Webb Thomas and Heather Alyse Becker in various servant roles acquit themselves respectably. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 16. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Los Angeles, 323-851-7977, www.theatrewest.org.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATERS SITUTATED IN HOLLYWOOD, WEST HOLLYWOOD AND THE DOWNTOWN AREAS:
At the Flash: A fierce and funny show that condenses LGBT history into the story of five characters: a closeted man in the 1960s, a black drag queen in the 1970s, a club kid in the 1980s, a budding lesbian activist in the 1990s, and a family man and entrepreneur in the 2000s. Written by Sean Chandler, performed by David Leeper, and directed by David Zak. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-23/stage/at-the-flash/full/. Fri., May 31, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 1, 8 p.m. Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-957-1884, www.celebrationtheatre.com.Bobbywood: The Longest Death Scene: Written by and starring Bill Ratner, a Best of Fringe 2012 Honoree, 8-time Moth Story Slam Winner, and one of Hollywood's most successful voiceover performers. Ratner delves into the mystery of what happened to I Love Lucy's "Bobby the Bellboy." Part of the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Starting June 6, Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 29. Ruby Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-960-5774, www.complexhollywood.com.
GO : Brecht on Brecht: Playwright George Tabori assembled a huge master script -- too massive for inclusion in any one production -- of materials collected from the works of Bertolt Brecht. Directors are urged to make their own selection from the myriad pieces, which include poems, songs, scenes and transcripts of Brecht's wily testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. This production is selected and directed by Alistair Hunter, on the 40th anniversary of his 1973 production of the piece for the Scorpio Rising Theatre, which ran for three years in repertory. It emphasizes Brecht's role as a savage, disenchanted social critic who distrusted governments -- all governments -- and includes songs from The Three-Penny Opera, Mother Courage and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. Also in the mix are "The Jewish Wife" episode from Fears and Mysteries of the Third Reich, some clever and bitterly ironic poems and amusing anecdotes, all performed with gusto and finesse by the five-person ensemble of Gil Hagen-Hill, Daniel Houston-Davila, Belinda Howell, Susan Kussman and Gregg Lawrence. While the prose selections remind us of Brecht's quieter, more thoughtful side, it's the bitterly satiric Kurt Weill songs and ensembles that prove to be the highlights. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 2 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9, $25; students and seniors $18. Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-556-1636, www.atwaterplayhouse.com.
Cooking Oil: A play and public dialogue initiative written by BBC Award-winning Ugandan playwright Deborah Asiimwe, and directed by Emily Mendelsohn. A village reckons with the murder of a young girl, who sold free aid with a powerful, corrupt politician; she, to raise money for her school, and the politician, to raise money for political aspirations. The story unravels as the storytellers come to face their own complicity in an endless cycle. Layering traditional and contemporary music, dance, chant, and material of aid, Mendelsohn and Asiimwe interrogate dependence and the gaze at a suffering Other. The story uses contexts of international aid distribution and women's education to explore difficult justice. Featuring performances by Sammy Kamanzi, a celebrated musician and songwriter from Kigali, Esther Lutaaya, a member of Uganda's Latin Flavor, and many others. Presented by Los Angeles Performance Practice in association with the CalArts Center for New Performance, with support from the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Exchange International program. Thu., June 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., June 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., June 8, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., June 9, 2 & 8 p.m. AT1 Warehouse, Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex, 3245 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, www.atwatercrossing.com.
GO : Cops and Friends of Cops: The title Cops and Friends of Cops references the raucous "cops only" night held monthly at the tumbledown St. Louis bar in Ron Klier's suspenseful drama. While Dom (Paul Vincent O'Connor) prepares the bar for the night's guests, he is joined by the shabby-looking Paul (Johnny Clark), who insists on staying, in spite of Dom's repeated warnings that "the place is slammed with cops" and his prediction that things will "turn rowdy." After Emmett (Andrew Hawkes), plus Roosevelt (Rolando Boyce) and his soon-to-be-retired partner Sal (Gareth Williams), clamor in, the mood turns deeply malevolent -- fast. Emmett's inexplicable browbeating of Paul turns increasingly ugly and confrontational, while Sal's seemingly endless assortment of "all in good fun" racist jokes slowly begin to anger his young African-American partner. This initial ratcheting-up of tension, however, is nothing compared with what happens after a gun is suddenly produced and the reason for Paul's visit is revealed. What follows is anything but predictable. Klier's rough-hewn characters are completely convincing, and the script, in addition to forcefully probing issues of morality, bigotry, loss and redemption, takes hold and allows little in the way of relief, as does Klier's highly charged, violent staging. The ensemble work here is first-rate, while Danny Cistone nails his meticulously crafted bar mock-up, complete with pay phone and old-timey jukebox. (Lovell Estell III). Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 29, $25. VS. Theatre, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, www.vstheatre.org.
GO : Dying City: When Peter (Burt Grinstead) unexpectedly shows up at Kelly's (Laurie Okin) Lower Manhattan apartment, the mood is prickly and awkward. That's understandable; Peter is the identical twin of her husband, Craig, a hard-as-nails soldier who recently died in a military accident in Iraq. But during their conversation, many questions tug at this pair, threatening to bring them down into an emotional undertow. Did Craig really die in an accident? Why is Kelly's phone number unlisted and why is she obscuring evidence she may be moving out? Christopher Shinn's writing is sophisticated and elusive, presenting only tantalizing fragments and expecting you to make the connections and piece the backstory together. The language is raw and real -- people really do talk this way -- and Shinn, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for this play, perfectly captures the discomfort of a relationship that exists only through a marital connection yet becomes cathected and extremely complicated. Director Michael Peretzian stages the one-act play well, using lighting and sound cues sparingly but above all extracting superb and deeply expressive performances from his cast of two. Both actors are called upon to negotiate some difficult emotional terrain, and Grinstead, in particular, demonstrates his range. (Pauline Adamek). Starting June 1, Saturdays, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m.; Mondays, 8 p.m. Continues through July 8, $30. Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 855-585-5185, www.roguemachinetheatre.com.A Fried Octopus: A surreal night of theater, inspired by the dancing women of Toulouse Lautrec's paintings, about the male ideal of art and the feminine divine. Written by Alicia Adams and Justin Zsebe. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 8. Bootleg Theater, 2200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, 213-389-3856, www.bootlegtheater.org.See Theater Feature.Groundlings Prom After-Party: All-new sketch and improv, directed by Damon Jones. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 & 10 p.m. Continues through July 6. Groundling Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, 323-934-9700, www.groundlings.com.
Heart Song: A middle-aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith is convinced to join a flamenco class for "out of shape" women which forever changes her life. Written by Stephen Sachs. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 14. Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323-663-1525, www.fountaintheatre.com. See Theater Feature.Hemophelia's House of Horrors: This cheerfully ghoulish confection, conceived and directed by Dan Spurgeon, with sketches and songs by actor Matt DeNoto, is introduced by emcee Hemophelia (Lara Fisher), a white-face clown in convict-striped tights, who interacts with the audience and sings some zany songs. The horrors are generally tongue-in-cheek, geared to produce laughter rather than chills. The sketches depict a babysitter who persuades her young charges their Mommy is a murderous cyborg, a rather bemused Freddy in the 479th sequel to Friday the 13th, a pair of conjoined twin clowns who have a falling-out when one acquires a girlfriend, and a sinister doctor who eagerly harvests his brother's organs. The direction is tight, the music choices are clever, and there are enthusiastic performances by the eight-person ensemble, including, in addition to DeNoto and Fisher, Casey Christensen, Torrey Halverson, Samm Hill, Brian Prisco, Cloie Wyatt Taylor and Cynthia Zitter. The Visceral Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 10:30 p.m.; through June 8. thevisceralcompany.com. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 10:30 p.m. Continues through June 8, $15. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.
Hollywood Fringe Festival 2013: Over 1,000 performances of 200 plus performing arts productions will be presented at 20 venues throughout central Hollywood. Visit hollywoodfringe.org for a complete list of showtimes and locations. The Opening Night Party begins at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12, at Fringe Central Station, the hub of the festival. The event will evoke a variety show atmosphere, with balloon twisters, freak show performers, close-up magic, a dance party and musicians playing throughout the night. Mondays-Sundays. Continues through June 30, www.hollywoodfringe.org/. Fringe Central Station, 6314 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-455-4585, www.hollywoodfringe.org.
GO : Hot Cat: Exploring the mendacity in family dynamics, unrequited sexual yearnings, and mortality with a synthesis of dance and theater. Directed and choreographed by Tina Kronis. Text by Richard Alger. Also showing as part of the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-09/stage/the-royale-marco-ramirez-hot-cat/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $25; students & seniors $20. Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-856-8611, www.theatreofnote.com.
Kill Me: Scott Barsotti's "dark, abstract horror" has moments of jarring resonance but fails to draw blood where it counts. After a terrible auto accident, Cam (Natasha Charles Parker) emerges from a coma convinced she has encountered supernatural beings from another dimension, and that she's now immortal. Cam's persistent suicide attempts to prove invincibility slowly drive her psychologist sister (Angela Stern) and Cam's lover (Jonica Patella) to desperation in searching for a cure, as Cam sinks further into a delusional, self-destructive spiral. Adding to the deathly atmosphere is the unsettling presence of the "Miseries" -- Paranoia, Dread, Angst and Despair (Yanna Fabian, Karen Nicole, Lamont Webb, Alexander Price, outfitted in Erica Schwartz's splendidly designed, ghoulish costumes). Director Dan Spurgeon elicits good performances, but they don't quite offset a windy script that's lead-heavy with murky philosophical and psychological musings, making it difficult to follow the narrative let alone emotionally connect with Cam's harrowing plight. The protracted finale is little more than morbid bathos. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2, $20. Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-1150.Long Way Go Down: In the shifting sands of the Southwest desert, two people desperate for a new beginning undergo an expensive and dangerous journey in the bottom of a semi-truck, piloted by a smuggler who expects payment on the other side. Written by Zayd Dohrn. Directed by Don K. Williams. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 7. Art of Acting Studio, 1017 N. Orange Drive, Los Angeles, 323-601-5310.
GO : The Matchmaker: Thornton Wilder, who wrote this zany philosophical farce, is a paradoxical figure. He was both deeply conservative -- intent on conserving the theatrical conventions and traditions of the past -- and an innovator who burst the bounds of realistic theater with plays like The Long Christmas Dinner, Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. But perhaps his most memorable creation is the title character of this piece, Dolly Gallagher Levi (Lori Berg), the irrepressible matchmaker and all-around busybody, who sets her cap for wealthy businessman Horace Vandergelder (Dimitri Christy), and along the way solves the romantic dilemmas of everybody in the vicinity. Director Heather Chesley provides a production that initially seems pedestrian and heavy-handed but gains in momentum as it progresses. Most innovative are the increasingly frantic and loony dance interludes, by choreographer Julie Hall, employed to cover the set changes. In addition to those mentioned above, there are engaging performances by Ellis Greer as the determined milliner Irene Molloy, Joseph Barone as the naive clerk Barnaby and Katie Buderwitz as a vivacious Minnie Fay. Their performances, combined with Wilder's sunnily subversive wit, give the proceedings an air of festive celebration that sends the audience out beaming. (Neal Weaver). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m.; Sat., June 15, 2:30 p.m. Continues through June 16. David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Los Angeles, 323-462-8460, www.actorsco-op.org.
Night Of Noir Show: Captured Aural Phantasy Theater's June installment of their El Cid residency, featuring a radio/variety show format, performances of classic noir-themed stories, live music, and unique thrills. Sun., June 2, 8:30 p.m. El Cid, 4212 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-668-0318, www.elcidla.com.
The North Plan: It's not so easy to milk laughter from a political nightmare. Or at least that seems to be the lesson offered by director David Fofi's staging of playwright Jason Wells' uneasy 2010 mix of paranoid conspiracy and black comedy. The play imagines the Department of Homeland Security engineering a coup whose success or failure pivots on retrieving an incriminating flash-drive file stolen by a dissenting State Department official (Chris Game). When he winds up in the hands of nefarious DHS agents (Dominic Rains, John Forest) at a podunk Missouri police station (on Joel Daavid's convincing set), the fate of the nation rests on whether he can enlist his thick-headed trailer-trash cellmate (Kerry Carney) to join the resistance. Though the farce fitfully kicks in with Act 2, a tediously expository first act and Carney's sledgehammer performance lends the evening all the comic appeal of Seven Days in May as played by Lucille Ball. (Bill Raden). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 8, opening night $35; regular performances $25; pay-what-you-can Thurs. May 2 only. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Our Class: A disturbing drama, executed by an accomplished ensemble under Matthew McCray's direction, Tadeusz Slobodzianek's Our Class deals with the alleged massacre of 1,600 Jews by their Polish neighbors in a small town in 1941. The multistranded plot builds around 10 individuals, five Jewish and five Catholic. It begins in their elementary school years, then presses forward in time, portraying how a few instigators help hatred, greed and cruelty to overtake the Polish townsfolk, culminating in acts of unimaginable cruelty against the Jewish minority. Casting a macroscopic net, Act 2 tracks the fate of both perpetrators and survivors as they struggle to get on with their lives using vengeance, repression and denial. One reason the play succeeds so well is that Slobodzianek's characters elude cliché. Heroism and wrongdoing manifest on both sides: A Polish woman of conscience (Melina Bielefelt) hides a former Jewish classmate (Kiff Scholl), a flawed narcissist who later becomes an Israeli interrogator who beats and tortures the accused in his charge. Despite its length and detail, the production stays compelling. Performances are top-notch, with Dan Via a standout as the town's crafty betrayer and twisted psychopath. As the Jew who escaped, Michael Nehring gives voice to the grief and consternation of appalled humanity. (Deborah Klugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2, $14-$25. Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, 323-644-1929, www.atwatervillagetheatre.com.
GO: Peter Pan: The Boy Who Hated Mothers: Traditional productions of Peter Pan have relied on huge casts, acres of elaborate scenery and complicated flying apparatus, but director Michael Matthews proves that's all unnecessary in this production of Michael Lluberes' revisionist adaptation. For starters, there's a male actor, Daniel Shawn Miller, playing Peter, and a female Captain Hook (Trisha LaFache, who also doubles as Mrs. Darling); a versatile cast of seven plays all the roles. In a conventional production, all of the actors might seem miscast: They're all too big, tall, mature or muscular for their roles. But here imagination, ingenuity, exuberance and the spirit of make-believe transcend literal reality, and the result is sweet, touching and magical. Lluberes' script simplifies the play but preserves most of its values and ideas. The same actors play both the Lost Boys and the Pirates who hunt them. And the flying is handled with endearing simplicity: The flyers are lifted and carried by the ensemble. The adult actors play children with unsentimental zest. Miller's Peter is athletic, swashbuckling, egotistical and cocky, and Liza Burns' Wendy is both motherly and keenly aware of the sexual underpinnings of her interest in Peter. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 2, $30. Second Stage Theater, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Private Eyes: A play about deception and broken trust, written by Steven Dietz. Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 30. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Rent: Because of its repetitive musicality, rock opera Rent lives or dies on the vocal strength of its cast. This production has mostly excellent, robust and irrepressible singing that is only occasionally obliterated by the mediocre live band. The plot of Jonathan Larson's legendary Broadway smash in some ways clings to its source material (Henri Murger's novel and Puccini's opera), gaining gravitas with its contemporary updating to Manhattan in the mid-'90s. Tuberculosis becomes AIDS, the oppressed mobilize and artists sell out. This production's highlights include the hilarious "Tango: Maureen" (sung by Reagan Osborne and Kate Bowman) and "Light My Candle" (Juan Lozano and the sultry Lauren Joy Goss as a sexed-up Mimi). Jonathon Grant steals the show with his dynamite performance as cheeky drag queen Angel, especially in his athletic first solo, "Today 4 You." Director Kristen Boulé never finds the balance between the show's rock & roll power and its quiet, reflective ballads, and commencing Act Two in full house lights undermines the dreamy, multipart harmonies of "Seasons of Love." (Pauline Adamek). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 30. Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
GO : The Size of Pike: Boys will be boys and men will be men, though the distinction between the two is more likely one of personal income rather than emotional maturity. Or so it is with the three middle-aged children (Dennis Delsing, Jon Amirkhan and Gregg Christie) who explore their frayed adult bonds in this engaging revival of playwright Lee Wochner's poignant 1996 comedy. Part of Moving Arts' "20/20 Vision," its 20th-anniversary season of retrospective restagings, the watchwords of director Sara Wagner's audience-immersive production (on Aaron Francis' shabbily un-chic apartment set) are up close and personal -- any closer and you'd be sitting in the actors' laps. The play's action takes place on the eve of the trio's annual fishing trip. Its highlight is Amirkhan playing Costello to Delsing's Abbott in a hilariously extended riff involving a tall tale about a six-inch pike. But such fish stories are central to Wochner's meditation on changing generational codes of masculinity -- a shift that has left Delsing's truculent but physically ravaged carpenter increasingly at odds with his office-working childhood chums as he quixotically tries to live up to a model of pride and rugged self-reliance that no longer has meaning or relevance in a world defined solely by the commodity. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 15, $20. Moving Arts, 1822 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, 323-666-3259, www.movingarts.org.
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 Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine: When writer-performer Ian Ruskin promises "the life of Thomas Paine" in this one-man, 90-minute hagiography, he means exactly that -- a sweeping, cradle-to-grave, chronological précis of the Enlightenment corset maker, government bureaucrat, pro-republican pamphleteer, Utopian polemicist and revolutionary propagandist's tumultuous and event-packed lifespan. And it's easy to understand Ruskin's reluctance to edit. Paine is just the kind of American founding father that the Tea Party set would prefer to forget -- a lifelong radical Democrat, uncompromising gadfly to profit and privilege, pioneering advocate of economic justice and fomenter of two revolutions. But by including everything, Ruskin's CSPAN-ish impersonation ends up giving very little. Despite director Shanga Parker's seductive stage polish (including Sarah Nash Gates' period-perfect costuming) and Ruskin's own amiable and engaging stage presence, rather than the abrasive and alienating firebrand one might expect, the evening introduces us to little more than an Encyclopedia Britannica entry. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 2. Elephant Stages, Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles.
GO: Trainspotting: Director Roger Mathey and Seat of the Pants Productions return with a solid revival of their 2002 production about four lower-class Edinburgh youths prematurely entombed in a hellish world of sex, heroin addiction and violence. The story is based on the 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh (the source material for Danny Boyle's 1996 film) and adapted for the stage by Harry Gibson. Mathey sacrifices nothing in the way of raw, nausea-inducing moments in this outing (shit really does fly, and there is full nudity), and this time he efficiently uses a larger cast, with some actors taking on multiple roles. Justin Zachary returns as narrator-protagonist Mark Renton, who in spite of numerous attempts at rehab can't kick the habit. Also returning are David Agranov as Mark's close friend Tommy, who eventually succumbs to heroin's lethal allure; Matt Tully as Begbie; and Jonathan Roumie as Sick Boy. In spite of the dismal subject matter, Mathey unearths some necessary humor, a lot of it coming from Mark's often ironic, understated commentary. Still, at times the Scottish accents make it near impossible to understand the dialogue (Tully often sounds like he's chewing a mouthful of oatmeal). Jason Rupert's scenic design consisting of a platform that doubles as a home interior, bracketed by two graffiti-pocked walls, is suitably raunchy. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 2, 323-960-7785, plays411.com/trainspotting. Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
Translations: The story of a small community of impoverished Irish farmers in the early 19th century, and the British soldiers who set up camp in their village during a mission to translate every geographic name from Gaelic into English. Written by Brian Friel. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 23. Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, 323-871-5830.
ONGOING SHOWS IN SMALLER THEATRS SITUATED IN THE VALLEYS:
Attack of the Rotting Corpses: Zombie Joe's disgusting new thriller-comedy about a condo complex in the San Fernando Valley, where the water supply becomes contaminated with a dangerous microbe, transforming the residents (and their pets) into ravenous, flesh-eating zombies. Fridays, 11 p.m. Continues through July 12. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.com.Cooperstown: Brian Golden's drama is a well-intentioned homage to the monumental career of Jackie Robinson, with the action set in a diner (a stunner by Desma Murphy) in Cooperstown on the eve of Robinson's Hall of Fame induction. Junior (Cecil Burroughs), a black man, hopes to wheedle a promotion to manager of the diner from its white owner, whose cynical political ambitions would be aided by hosting the induction dinner. Trouble looms, however, because of a planned civil-rights protest by Junior's ultra-militant sister (Jamye Grant) and her cohorts. On site for the ceremony is an endearing baseball groupie (TJ McNeill), whose amorous puppy-dog attachment to waitress Dylan (Alexa Shoemaker) makes for a humorous diversion but is as insubstantial as Junior's puzzling relationship with the owner's neglected wife (Ann Hu). There is much to enjoy here, especially if you're a baseball fan. Director Darryl Johnson's cast perform consistently well, but Golden's winding, here-and-there script makes disappointingly ineffective use of the rich potential of the subject matter. (Lovell Estell III). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 20. NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., Los Angeles.
GO : The Crucible: Arthur Miller's play, first produced on Broadway in 1953, was Miller's impassioned response to McCarthyism and the witch-hunts launched by the House Un-American Activities Committee. But the fact that it has become an oft-produced American classic and the basis for two films (including a French version with screenplay by Jean-Paul Sartre) reminds us that it's not just a political screed. Miller presents the Salem witch trials, and the ensuing executions, as a lethal combination of greed, personal resentment, religious fanaticism and hysteria, ordinary human fears and the need to find someone to blame for all misfortunes. It was a climate in which honesty and integrity were dangerous, and lies and manipulation could thrive. Co-directors Armin Shimerman and Geoffrey Wade have given the piece a highly presentational production, in which the actors deliver their lines directly to the audience rather than to each other. This approach drives the ideas home with force and clarity but some loss of psychological subtlety. The large ensemble (all roles are double-cast) delivers a production that is powerful and always engrossing. There are especially fine portrayals, in the performance reviewed, by James Sutorious as Deputy Governor Danforth, Bo Foxworth as John Proctor and Ann Noble as Reverend Hale. (Neal Weaver). Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m. Continues through July 6. The Antaeus Company and Antaeus Academy, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.
Fool For Love: A 1983 Sam Shepard play about Eddie, a rodeo stuntman, and May, his "forever connection," whom he finds living in a motel in the Mojave Desert. Directed by Gloria Gifford. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Continues through June 23, www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?ActCode=92083. T.U. Studios, 10943 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, 818-205-1680.
Gun Control Theatre Action: An evening of short plays, produced to be part of the national discussion about gun control. Featuring works by Elaine Avila, Alex Broun, Cecilia Copeland, Amina Henry, Yvette Heyliger, Zac Kline, Neil LaBute, Lynn Manning, Oliver Mayer, and others. Sat., June 1, 7:30 p.m., Free. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena, 626-441-5977, www.fremontcentretheatre.com.
GO : Mahmoud: Like it or not, in a country of melting-pot mongrels, the dislocating immigrant experience is part of our cultural DNA. So it is no surprise that performer Tara Grammy's partly autobiographical solo show (co-written with Tom Arthur Davis) about Toronto's Iranian expatriate community should resonate with such poignant and universal familiarity. Grammy interweaves multiple characters: Mahmoud, a middle-aged cab driver and refugee from the Khomeini revolution; a flamboyant Spanish gay man and his Iranian boyfriend, who has returned to Tehran on family business; and Grammy herself, both as an adolescent born in Tehran but raised in Canada, and as an adult struggling to launch a career in Toronto's film and TV industry. The freshest and funniest material -- aided by Davis' smart and brisk staging -- belongs to the 11-year-old Tara and her fixation on somehow mitigating the physical differences between her own dark complexion and that of her class's most popular blond, blue-eyed girl. What ultimately thwarts all the characters, however, is an Iran of the imagination whose relation to the truth becomes increasingly problematic as headlines from that country's 2009 elections hint at a more complicated and disturbing reality. (Bill Raden). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 29. Whitefire Theater, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-2324, www.whitefiretheatre.com.
Perennial: A new play about love and how we screw it up, written by and starring Tammy Minoff. Friends enter into new relationships and struggle to keep old ones together in New York City. Starting June 1, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 29. Sidewalk Studio Theatre, 4150 Riverside Drive, Burbank, 818-558-5702, www.sidewalkstudiotheatre.com.PICK OF THE WEEK : Shakespeare's Richard III: Shakespeare's account of the deformed, devious usurper to England's throne runs the longest of the history plays, coming in just slightly shorter than Hamlet. Zombie Joe's version, Shakespeare's Richard III, edited and directed by Denise Devin, pares the tale to its most salacious bits in a breathlessly plotted, hourlong production. From Richard's snarling opening monologue, the action charges ahead at a breakneck pace, with several castmates doubling or tripling in the minor roles. This is Shakespeare for the very busy, and for those who like their Bard with a helping of humor and horror. From Richard's (W. Lochridge O'Bryan) casual handling of Hastings' (Tyler McAuliffe) detached head to the aggressively corporal spirits who shriek "Despair, and die!" on the eve of his ousting, the evil is satisfying if not particularly subtle. O'Bryan gives a delicious performance as the humpbacked, villainous king, who disposes of brothers, nephews, friends and wife on his grim ascent to the throne. Richard's coffin-side seduction of Lady Anne (Anna Gillcrist) crackles with lust, while his later entreaties to Queen Elizabeth (Sarah Fairfax) to marry her daughter, his niece, disgust with their attendant creepiness. Devin keeps a tight rein on the production, though a few more beats would give these scenes the rest they deserve. (Jenny Lower). Fridays, 8:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 16. Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-202-4120, zombiejoes.homestead.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 Aug. 25, 800-595-4849, smokeandmirrorsmagic.com. Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, www.lankershimartscenter.com.
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me: There's more than a touch of Beckett in Frank McGuinness' grimly funny drama about three men chained up indefinitely in a grimy room somewhere in Beirut. Guilty of nothing more than wrong-place-wrong-time, the hostages -- a boisterous Irishman (Bert Emmett), a frenetic American (Evan L. Smith) and a prim British professor (Lloyd Pedersen) -- pass the time making imaginary movies, writing imaginary letters, drinking imaginary cocktails or imagining the 1977 Wimbledon ladies' finals, in a bid to stave off madness through sheer force of will. Politics, however, hardly surface. Though inspired by the memoirs of Brian Keenan, an Irishman held hostage for four years during Lebanon's civil war, more time is spent on the Irish "troubles" than on the perpetual conundrum that is the Middle East. It's a character-rich approach but one that causes momentum to stall out repeatedly. What keeps the play aloft are three superb performances and the moments when director Gregg T. Daniel's staging achieves the lyrical. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 2. (818) 700-4878, thegrouprep.com. (Mindy Farabee). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 2, $22. Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-700-4878, www.thegrouprep.com.
Stuck in Neutral: What's it like to be an intelligent person with a rich inner life yet be unable to communicate? in this adaptation of Terry Trueman's novel, the main character, Shawn (Jonathan D. Black), has cerebral palsy and cannot speak or use his limbs. yet his inner self responds to life with all the kinetic energy and sexual curiosity of a typical adolescent. Shawn's mother (Mary Carrig) and siblings love him unconditionally, but his father (David Michael Trevino) is profoundly disturbed by Shawn's disability; he believes his son is suffering and contemplates killing him to spare him pain. adapted by Allison Cameron Gray and Matt Chorpenning and directed by David P. Johnson, the play raises important questions, but needs considerably more work to be transformed from an earnest exploration of the issues to a solid, character-centered drama. As Shawn, Black is appropriately cheeky but in other ways miscast. Trevino is stiff and unconvincing as his dad. Several supporting performers display more gravitas but are held in check by the melodrama, including Carrig, Amy Greenspan as Shawn's sister, Swati Kapila as his dream girl and John Walcutt as an inmate who went to prison for murdering his disabled child. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m..; Sun., 2 p.m.; through June 9. themightyorbits.com/stuck_in_neutral/. (Deborah Mlugman). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9. Secret Rose Theater, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, 877-620-7673, www.secretrose.com.
Through a Glass Darkly: In playwright Jenny Worton's adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's 1964 brooding film, the often transcendent sadness of the cinematic original makes only a tepidly involving transition to the stage. Sparks fly and despair settles in like the crust atop chocolate pudding for members of a Swedish family during its vacation. The escalating mental illness of daughter Karin (Meg Wallace) is prompting her to say things like, "Vacations mean you have all the time to look into the abyss!" As Karin disappears more into a world of delusion, dad David (Anthony Auer) seems more interested in finishing his novel -- with tragic results. Director Steve Jarrard's staging captures the underlying melancholy of the film, but the adaptation lacks the subtlety of Bergman's original -- this production is claustrophobic and ponderous. Wallace offers a genuinely moving turn as the emotionally decomposing daughter, but Auer's bristly, self pitying David misses the gravitas needed to locate his character's sympathetic elements. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through July 7. Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 818-720-2009, www.ravenplayhouse.com.
Urban Death: Zombie Joe's Underground's horror stories. Saturdays, 11 p.m. Continues through June 8. 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: Annapurna: Husband and wife actors Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman star in this drama by Sharr White, about two old lovers who reunite for the first time in twenty years. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-04-25/stage/a-pair-of-two-person-shows-one-starring-comedy-couple-nick-offerman-and-megan-mullaly-lt-em-gt-annapurna-lt-em-gt-and-lt-em-gt-years-to-the-day-lt-em-gt-reviewed/. Thursdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 9, $25-$30. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.GO : Heart of Darkness: In his haunting, solo adaptation of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, playwright-actor Brian T. Finney navigates his craft directly through the work's core themes of madness, imperialistic exploitation and, well, the horror. Finney reimagines the story as monologue, artfully orchestrated by director Keythe Farley's psychologically nuanced and ferociously energetic staging. Avoiding the pitfalls of intrusive, radio drama-like narration, Finney and Farley offer a far more immersive experience -- one that is fraught with eerie melancholy. Finney, caparisoned in traditional 19th-century explorer's garb, at first plays the hero as a traditionally plummy, genially affable British sailor. But as his character's voyage up the dark river of the Congo proceeds, and he finds himself desperately interacting with the dangerously insane station chief Kurtz, the performer takes on the lunacy of his characters, creating a harrowing atmosphere with a stylized quality that almost echoes Kabuki theater. Set, sound effects and multimedia visuals are almost characters in their own right: Sibyl Wickersheimer's sole set backdrop, a series of three sails that fold in and out of each other, turning into walls at one moment and screens for contextual slides in others, is brilliantly effective. (Paul Birchall). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through June 1, $35; students/seniors $30, www.theactorsgang.com/. Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation Theater, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, 310-838-4264, www.theactorsgang.com.
I'm Not Rappaport: A new stage production of the Tony award-winning comedy by Herb Gardner, in which seniors Midge, an African American, and Nat, a Jewish man, meet in Central Park and develop a friendship. Directed by Howard Teichman. See Stage feature: http://www.laweekly.com/2013-05-02/stage/colorblind-im-not-rappaport/full/. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-204-4440, www.picoplayhouse.com.
Ionescopade, A Musical Vaudeville: Taken from the works of "Theatre of the Absurd" playwright Eugène Ionesco, this is a zany musical vaudeville featuring mime, farce and parody. Music and lyrics by Mildred Kayden, original concept by Robert Allan Ackerman, directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 5 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thu., June 13, 8 p.m.; Wed., June 19, 8 p.m.; Thu., June 27, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 11, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 17, 8 p.m.; Thu., July 25, 8 p.m.; Wed., July 31, 8 p.m. Continues through Aug. 11. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: William Shakespeare's tale of four young lovers, a traveling troupe of actors, and the mystical fairies who manipulate them all. Starting June 1, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., June 2, 3 p.m.; Sun., June 30, 7 p.m. Continues through June 30. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com.
GO : One White Crow: Playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos' drama boasts a charged debate about faith versus science that's engagingly even-handed and surprisingly evocative. Renowned TV celebrity psychic Judith Knight (Michelle Danner) offers an exclusive interview to hard-boiled reporter Teresa (Jane Hajduk), who is mystified by the request, given that she is a fierce disbeliever in the occult and is also the daughter of Christopher Hitchens-like religious skeptic Robert. Robert has recently died and Teresa is sure that Judith is scheming some sort of fake séance for PR purposes -- but the real truth turns out to be far more ambiguous and disturbing. Director Deborah LaVine's nicely character-driven staging crafts figures who represent two extreme poles of dogmatic belief -- Teresa and her Richard Dawkins-like boyfriend Alex (a nicely prickly Rob Estes) contrast arrestingly with Danner's Knight, whose inscrutable, Paula Dean-meets-carnival fortune-teller persona is fascinating. Although Stamos' plot runs out of steam at the end, and the dialogue occasionally falters into banality, the premise is enough to make the play intellectually intriguing. (Paul Birchall). Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Continues through June 23, $35. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
Opening Night: This mildly entertaining backstage comedy about the ill-fated debut of an awful play features a talented cast under Bruce Gray's able direction. But Norm Foster's screwball story stays afloat on a raft of cliches and pointed winks: A cultural philistine and his long-suffering wife ring in their silver anniversary during Game Seven of the World Series. An oily director manages his buxom ingenue under his girlfriend's watchful eye, while a starry-eyed waiter banters with a washed-up Shakespearean. Et cetera. The caricatures are meant to make us feel superior to the rubes onstage, but the half-funny jokes grow forced. Despite pitch-perfect performances (Gail Johnston, John Combs and David Hunt Stafford are special standouts), some tender moments and a second act that's snappier than the first, we can see the character arcs coming from a mile away. For a play whose characters grandly extemporize on the magic of theater, this show could use more of its own. (Jenny Lower). Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Continues through June 16. Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 Moreno, Beverly Hills, 310-364-0535, www.theatre40.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 June 30. Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-399-3666, www.edgemarcenter.org.
GO: Years to the Day: A dark comedy written by Allen Barton about two 40-something men who have been friends for decades, and who finally get together for coffee after only staying in touch via social media. See stage feature. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through June 2, $25-$35. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-855-1556, www.bhplayhouse.com.