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.
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.
The blues supply the metaphoric fuel for "Hoodoo Love." Katori Hall's 2007 play about an aspiring singer in Depression-era Tennessee receives an ambitious and evocative, albeit erratic, West Coast premiere at the Ruby Theatre.
We first encounter Toulou (Andrea Meshel) mid-coitus with itinerant musician Ace of Spades (Elijah Rock) in her stark, Memphis-adjacent shanty. (Kenneth Olefien's bipolar set centers an impressive design effort.)
Toulou is arguably more an archetype of enduring African American womanhood than a three-dimensional character. Yet there's recognizable human mojo in her bright-eyed fervor to catch the same train to juke-joint fame as Ace -- and also catch Ace's lady-killer heart.
Nudged by former slave Candy Lady (Karen McClain) -- "Bad men stay, good mens go away" -- Toulou turns to traditional hoodoo to make her good man stay. But she hasn't reckoned on Jib (Rickie Peete), Toulou's huckster-minister brother, as bad as all get-out and not about to go away.
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.)
Beginning with that 1990 debut, LaBute has always courted controversy. But although “Filthy” now seems overwrought and a bit dated, it holds interest as the distant echo of a young artist finding his voice.
Director Frédérique Michel and production designer Charles Duncombe revisit LaBute's seldom-produced play in a bold albeit flawed production at City Garage's Bergamot Station space. The play's setting has been shifted from a topless bar to the aesthetic precincts of an art gallery –- a risky innovation obviously designed to point out the crass objectification of the female form.
Three nude women (Kye Kinder, Heather Leigh Pasternak and Vera Petrychenka), carrying hatboxes –- anachronistic artifacts of vanished conventions –- stalk through Duncombe's stark set like automata, ultimately freezing into a human triptych. The increasingly drunken male characters (Troy Dunn, David E. Frank, Dave Mack and Kenneth Rudnicki) banter salaciously and ogle the nude “art objects” like a wolf pack as two waitresses (Cynthia Mance and Katrina Nelson) recount sordid past sexual episodes.
Duncombe contributes additional material -– repetitive musings on such words as “art” and “object” -- that sometimes seems at odds with the play's vulgarity. But although the uneven cast doesn't always measure up to the production's demands, Duncombe's new text, coupled with Michel's ever-rigorous staging, heightens LaBute's sophomorically sensational work into a serious examination of semantics, sin and the human imperative for connection, however imperfect.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,” City Garage at Track 16 Gallery, Building C-1 at Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 26. $25. (310) 319-9939. www.citygarage.org. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Photo: Heather Leigh Pasternak, Vera Petrychenka, Kye Kinder. Credit: Paul M. Rubenstein.
Traditional British panto is a long time coming to this coast. Other than a few isolated instances in distant memory, panto seems to have eluded L.A. theatergoers almost entirely.
That deficit is finally redressed with “Cinderella Christmas” at the El Portal. Those who have never been to a panto will have a glorious introduction to the form. And those native Brits longing for a taste of tradition will find much to delight in this rollicking entertainment.
“Cinderella,” which follows the just-closed “A Snow White Christmas,” also at the El Portal, is a recast reprise of a 2010 run. The show contains all the traditional elements of panto, including much music, naughty double-entendres, and, of course, plenty of over-the-top, Monty Python-esque drag, all loosely supported by the framework of a classic fairy tale, fractured in this case, by writer Kris Lythgoe.
A star turn is also traditional to panto, and Fred Willard supplies that requirement as Cinderella's father, Baron Hardup, a downtrodden noble whose travel agency has gone belly-up in hard economic times. Beloved since the days of “Fernwood Tonight,” Willard is a wry, dry, stalwart presence who gets a big laugh just sitting at a table.
Whew! “Christmas Thrills and High Adventure!,” an evening of holiday-themed sketch-comedy and music at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre, has the kind of rampaging energy more typically associated with hyperactivity disorder.
Given the right context, that could be quite endearing. But Richard Nathan’s scattershot playlets are more miss than hit, and when the laughs flag, director Denise Devin compensates by amping up the volume in a high-decibel staging that can wear on the nerves. The strutting, mugging and very loud performers hard-sell the show like flea-market vendors who have to make the rent.
To give Devin and her cast their due, subtlety would not be in order here. High camp is the obvious objective, and to that end, Nathan freely samples cliché genres, from detective noir to western to pirate adventure to horror story.
It all sounds promising enough, but Nathan’s offbeat rhythms and bizarre characters seem more akin to Samuel Beckett than Carol Burnett. Notwithstanding the deficits in the material, a great deal of effort and sheer toil has gone into these proceedings. Devin, assisted by cast member Irene Conde and Jeri Batzdorff, has assembled elaborately comical costumes that are a highlight. The staging is undeniably snappy, and the performers are ready, willing and well-prepared. Still, when the laughs don’t come, all the attendant glitz, razzle-dazzle and slapstick can’t quite conceal the strain.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Christmas Thrills and High Adventure!” ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 11 p.m. Fridays. Ends Dec. 30. $15. (818) 202-4120. www.zombiejoes.com. Running time: 1 hour.
Alex Medina, Neysa Lozano. Credit: Zombie Joe.