Written by husband-and-wife team Lynn and Helen Root, “Man With the Pointed Toes” first saw light as a 1958 television production before premiering as a stage play at Glendale Centre Theatre in the mid-1960s. Now the play returns to the scene of its theatrical debut.
Historically speaking, that’s certainly heartwarming. Dramatically, it’s another story. Perhaps “Toes” was a rip-roarer back in its day, but it’s now a dusty velvet painting of a comedy with a paint-by-numbers plot that holds few surprises.
The story, in a chestnut shell, concerns Texas rancher Tom Coterel (Tommy Kearney), a new oil billionaire smitten by the purposefully seductive Pamela (Kelley Hurley). Out of his depth with Pamela, Tom hires bookwormish tutor Florence (Megan Blakeley) to smooth off his rough edges. Of course, as Florence successfully transforms Tom from a rube to a slicker, she falls in love with him. Will Tom realize just what a gem Florence is, or will he marry Pamela, a cubic zirconia in a gold-digger setting?
“The Vault: Bankrupt,” now being presented by the Latino Theater Company at Los Angeles Theatre Center, is the latest offering from the Vault Ensemble, a cheeky multi-ethnic group that began performing in 2010 in conjunction with downtown's Art Walk.
Developed through improv sessions by the entire company, “Bankrupt” is a light-hearted parody of the recent financial meltdown that centers around an idealistic middle-school teacher who ventures into the fictional Dream America Bank to secure a loan.
But in this particular bank, all employees are white-faced, hilariously hissing vampires in search of new prey. When the Teacher, a Candide-like naif, insists on a closer inspection of the bank and its reserves, he is launched on a surreal adventure that is ultimately corrupting, transforming him from nice guy to opportunistic bloodsucker.
Directed by ensemble members Aaron Garcia and Fidel Gomez, the show is fueled by a tonic mixture of youthful ebullience and pure cheekiness. However, the wildly careening plot, which takes the hero to outer space and back again with many outrageous segues in between, too often veers away from comprehensibility.
Who would have thought that Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” was such a romp?
Certainly, Shakespeare’s “tragic comedy” has taken a lot of heat in recent decades for its arguably problematic portrayal of Shylock, the usurious Jew bent on vengeance against a noble Christian.
Yet director Sean Branney, who won a Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award for his direction of last season’s “The Crucible,” largely redresses that pitfall by emphasizing the comical in a surprisingly rollicking staging. And if all that high energy occasionally verges on the manic, the production nonetheless scores high points as a richly cogent entertainment that honors every syllable of the Bard’s text.
Branney is particularly fortunate in his Shylock -- stage vet Barry Lynch, in a galvanic turn. Played with understated shrugs and the faint hint of an Eastern European accent, Lynch’s subtle Shylock explodes into roaring power as he prepares to extract his grisly payment from his debtor, Antonio (excellent Time Winters.) As Antonio’s bosom friend, Bassanio, who borrows from Antonio to woo his lady love, Portia (Kirsten Kollender), Daniel Kaemon is also fine.
“The Illusion,” Tony Kushner’s very free adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s 17th century play, “L’Illusion Comique,” has been prolifically produced since its first staging in 1989. A tragicomic fantasia on the evanescent nature of love, “The Illusion” predates Kushner’s “Angels in America” by just a few years.
A great theatrical experimenter in his own right, Kushner is the ideal adaptor for Corneille’s ground-breaking experiment, which blurs reality to a sometimes frustrating degree.
In her current staging at A Noise Within, director Casey Stangl cannot always redress the desultory nature of the material, yet the production fascinates on many levels.
The action commences in the shadowy cave of Alcandre, the magician (Deborah Strang.) Wealthy Pridamant (Nick Ullett), asks Alcandre and her amanuensis (Jeff Doba) to help him ascertain the fate of his estranged son (Graham Hamilton), whom he disinherited some years ago.
Alcandre shows Pridamant visions of his son’s adventures with various lady loves (Devon Sorvari), tricky servants (Abby Craden) and jealous rivals (Freddy Douglas.) Reality shifts and the characters’ names change along with their circumstances. As Pridamant voyeuristically looks on, he is plunged from hope to despair and back again by the diverse fates his son enjoys/endures.
Watching Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” at A Noise Within, one is reminded of Dame Edna Everage’s observation, “Color and movement is what they like.” In their kaleidoscopic staging, co-directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott provide color and movement in abundance. And like it we do.
“Antony and Cleopatra” is ranked by some scholars among Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” And considering the bizarre fusion of the humorous and the tragic, that’s understandable. But even more than the tonal irregularities, the lightning locale shifts would daunt a World War II field marshal.
Rodriguez-Elliott and Elliott, who also plays Antony, overcome all challenges with military efficiency. Navigating Tom Buderwitz’s vertiginous set, replete with sky-high walkways and metal towers, requires fortitude –- acrophobes need not apply. And for added breathlessness, there are those armored soldiers who soar over the audience’s heads on modified zip lines, right into the thick of battle.
Ken Booth’s magnificent lighting, in concert with Angela Balogh Calin’s vivid costumes, transform Cleopatra’s court into a butterfly grove, with the sumptuously attired Cleopatra as the reigning monarch. Susan Angelo, an eleventh-hour replacement in the role, shines in a sinuous turn.
Theatre of NOTE deserves high marks for producing Phinneas Kiyomura’s world premiere play, “Figure 8.” Subtitled “The Seven Deadly Sins Plays,” Kiyomura’s work, a series of elliptical, loosely connected scenes, is as technically challenging as it is thematically obscure. Yet although the playwright’s stream-of consciousness technique sometimes falls short of real craft, the actual staging, by Kiyomura and co-director Jerry Kernion, is unerringly proficient.
The design elements, particularly Davis Campbell’s versatile set and Bryan Maier’s unusual video visual design, meld into a stylishly seamless whole, and the frequent scene shifts are so smoothly orchestrated, they never interrupt the flow of action.
The tone shifts from dark to funny to darkly funny to just plain harrowing. The first scene concerns E (Alex Elliott-Funk), a strung-out rock star whose acrimonious radio interview takes a violent turn. E recurs in a subsequent scene, as indeed do many of these apparently extraneous characters.
But “La Ronde” this is not. The connections are more random, and the specific relationships between the characters are often so belatedly delineated that the audience remains at a loss for much of the scene. Among other subjects, the disparate plots include an evangelist flagellating a doubting congregant, incestuous siblings visiting their dying father in the hospital, a pornographer’s wrenching connection with a homeless Mormon he picked up on the beach, and a lonely school janitor lured into infidelity during his thankless work shift.
Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” has been produced prolifically since it first hit the boards in 1930. It seems that actors -– most recently Kim Cattrall in the 2011 Broadway revival –- can’t wait to sink their teeth into Coward’s surprisingly substantial froth.
Anyone who has seen a Coward play under less than optimum circumstances knows just how quickly that froth can turn leaden. Fortunately, in his present production at the GTC Burbank, director Jules Aaron has assembled a gifted cast that keeps the tone light and the dialogue properly aerated.
The first act contains the bulk of plot. Divorced five years previously, Amanda (Stasha Surdyke) and Elyot (Lenny von Dohlen), are honeymooning in Deauville with their respective new spouses, stodgy Victor (Jeff Witzke) and silly Sibyl (Annie Abrams.)
It's no novelty for playwrights to toy with classical musical structures as the basis for drama. Michael Hollinger’s “Opus” and Itamar Moses' "Bach at Leipzig" are only two examples.
Like “Opus,” Damian Lanigan's “Dissonance,” now in its West Coast premiere at the Falcon, centers on the fortunes, both romantic and artistic, of a classical string quartet, in this case the London-based Bradley Quartet, which is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a concert at Carnegie Hall.
James (Daniel Gerroll), the temperamental founder of the group, is a violin virtuoso who has fallen short of greatness. Second violin Hal (Peter Larney), an annoying purist, constantly hectors James about methods and musicianship. Violist Paul (Skip Pipo), James' brother and the object of his abuse, serves as passive peacemaker between the two. When Beth (Elizabeth Schmidt), the group's cellist and Hal's former flame, takes rock star Jonny (Jeffrey Cannata) as a music student and a lover, the delicate balance of the quartet is upended.
Early on, Lanigan seems intent on schooling us in the history of classical music -- grinding exposition that wears thin, as do Lanigan's laborious musical metaphors.
Veteran playwright Joanna McClelland Glass is one of those proven practitioners whose dramaturgical credentials are well established.
Take “Trying,” Glass' superlative 2004 two-hander, which enjoyed a record-breaking run at the Colony a few years back. That deft work, about a dying, aristocratic judge's end-of-life friendship with a young secretary fresh off the Canadian prairie, was certainly theater at its best.
Given Glass' track record, one suspects that “If We Are Women,” first produced in 1993, also contains hidden virtues. But in its current staging at Group Rep’s Lonny Chapman Theatre, director Sherry Netherland and an uninspired cast obscure the material's potential under a thick layer of inexpertise.
Female bonding is the order of the play. Bestselling author Jessica MacMillan Cohen (Lisa McGee-Mann), her intellectual ex-mother-in-law, Rachel (Marcia Loring), and her illiterate mother, Ruth (Jacque Lynn Colton), have all come together after the death of Jessica's artist lover. When Jessica's Yale-bound daughter Polly (Annie Mackay) wanders in a day late from her prom and announces she’s taking up farming with a dissolute rich boy, the older women unite in their efforts to dissuade her.
There are a couple of reasons why Cindy Lou Johnson's “Brilliant Traces,” initially produced nearly 25 years ago, continues to merit production. First, there's an absolutely spectacular opening scene that grabs the audience from the get-go. Second, “Traces” is a terrific vehicle for a couple of gifted actors –- and those in the current production at the Lounge Theatre 2 are certainly that.
How's this for an opener? Trapped in a blizzard, a young woman in a sodden wedding gown bursts into a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, ranting cryptically before collapsing in a heap of lace and satin.
This is Rosannah (Tessa Ferrer), a runaway bride apparently off her meds. Until the storm eases, she's stuck with the cabin's misanthropic owner, Henry, (Andy Wagner,) who, for reasons yet obscure, has immured himself as far away from humanity as he can get.
Sadly, the rest of the play doesn't measure up to the clever setup. Desultory blather trumps comprehensible plot, and among their other derangements, the characters seemingly also suffer from echolalia, persistently parroting each other's lines. Stripped of the repetition, this 90-minute piece might run about a half-hour.