Green Day’s American Idiot on Tour (Ahmanson Theatre) review

Yes, Rodgers & Hammerstein did bequeath the narrative form to the musical genre, thus irreversibly changing the way we have come to love musical theatre. The integrated book and lyrics took us out of the jukebox format of pop music of the 1920s and 1930s.

Then, in the 1950s rock and roll tried to wedge itself into the musical landscape with rocky results, to say the least. It wasn’t until the 1970s that rock music found a viable alternative on the Broadway stage with “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Those musicals captured the cultural and political zeitgeist in a cohesive and entertaining way.

Flash forward a few decades and what you see on stage is a return to the 20s and 30s with all kinds of music dominating the stage – yes, even rock and roll and 80s hair metal band music. That’s not to say that there isn’t any room for these types of musical genres. With American Idiot,” Green Day’s concept album of the same name now on stage and touring the U.S., you can add punk music (or at least post-punk) to the mix.

As an album “American Idiot” (and it’s follow-up “21st Century Breakdown”) works well in its original format. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong created a concept album centered on a character named Jesus of Suburbia, an anti-hero of sorts.

Along the way, other characters are introduced to flesh out Armstrong’s anti-hero, thus creating a unified musical work that explores themes of rage vs. love, media control, government and un-patriotic acts, and drugs and redemption, among others. The album itself is a solid piece of musical achievement representing some of Green Day’s best work.

However, on stage, that solid clarity of themes is diluted into a half-conceptualized idea that relies on a flashy set piece, multi-media, an aerial ballet, and a lot of aggressive choreography that seems forced and trivial. That director Michael Mayer has won numerous awards and high critical praise for this musical (as well as the tepid “Spring Awakening” a few seasons back) seems more a testament to the need for musical theatre to revitalize itself than to the claim of this being a groundbreaking musical.

Sure, it’s attempting to call to a younger audience, but at the same time, it dumbs itself down by assuming the target demographic is not capable of being entertained if not constantly bombarded by lightning-quick MTV-style formatting.

Green Day’s music in “American Idiot” and Tom Kitt’s musical arrangement that complements the punk sound on stage are the only things that really work well. Steven Hoggett’s choreography is so overwrought it almost seems the dancers are competing to avoid elimination on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

It’s hard not to compare “American Idiot” to a seminal piece of musical theatre that premiered almost twenty years ago. Christine Jones’ expansive set and some of Andrea Lauer’s costumes evoke the world and characters inhabited by Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Rent” and the comparisons don’t end there. Armstrong and Mayer’s minimalist book echoes much of that storyline, right down to one of its characters hawking his guitar for a ride back home. Whether this is a viable comparison or not, it is worth pointing out that, indeed, “American Idiot” hardly merits the “groundbreaking” tagline.

So, can punk work on a Broadway stage? Of course it can. Green Day’s riveting music of angst, disillusion, and, yes, even hope already proves that. If only the rest of it would fall in line.

Performances through April 22 at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 S. Grand St. For tickets and information please call (213) 972-4400 or visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org/idiot.

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Geeks! The Musical at Write Act

I consider myself a sort of geek, albeit a non-fully committed one. I may not own comic books or attend Comic-Cons, but I do own the Wonder Woman series – all three seasons and I might have a few action figures somewhere in storage.

Thankfully, I can continue to skirt my inner geek with Geeks! The Musical at Write Act Repertory Theatre. Set during the behemoth weekend that is Comic-Con in San Diego, the musical follows Jordan’s (Jonathan Brett) quest to find love. It is while he and his best bud Chip (Tyler Koster) are rummaging through comics, that he lays eyes on a rare species – a real girl named Kerry (Redetha Deason.) Of course, obstacles tear these two apart for the remaining weekend.

The musical has all the makings of a fun, campy play complete with a Geek chorus of conventioneers commenting on the highlights of the expo. Following a formulaic set-up, the play is predictable and the sub-plots involving a goth chic named Audrina (Juliette Angeli) who’s in love with bisexual artist named Trey (Brandon Murphy Barnes) and a second sub-plot involving a has-been actor (Richard Warren Lewis) gives the musical a longer running time than necessary.

There are some moments of sheer wit: the musical number, “How Many Actors Have Played Dr. Who,” and “I Hate It!” sung by Emerson (Wil Bowers), Kerry’s snobby know-it-all sidekick, show a glimmer of brilliance. Thomas J. Misuraca has a solid grasp of what it entails to be a true geek and it’s reflected solidly in his book and lyrics.

Unfortunately, the musical is hindered by a bland musical score by Ruth Judkowitz. The bare-bones musical arrangement on piano doesn’t hinder the production, but it does help highlight the fact that perhaps it is still in its workshop stage.

With a few exceptions, the cast is excellent though I wouldn’t say that music is the company’s strong suit. Still, the performers give it their all earnestly and with high energy, which makes this musical a pleasant experience.

If only Mr. Lewis would put a little more energy into his character. His big song “Has Been” seems like a half-hearted effort at best. Like his character that wishes to be anywhere but at the convention, the actor often times looks like he’d rather be somewhere else, too.

Ideally, this is meant as a light-hearted satire and in this, the musical succeeds. Perhaps with a little more workshop, these geeks will indeed inherit the earth!

Performances through March 17 at Write Act Repertory Theatre, 6128 Yucca St. For more information and tickets, please call 323-960-7779 or visit www.geeksthemusical.com.

El Nogalar at Fountain Theatre

You’ll get a sense of familiarity as this play unfolds. It’s intentional. El Nogalar is Spanish for pecan orchard and playwright Tanya Saracho has borrowed heavily from Chekhov’s iconic play about an aristocratic family’s efforts to save their own orchard.

But instead of cherries and early 20th Century Russia, we are in the border state of Nogales a century later, and dealing with the Mexican drug war, a war that exploded in the 1990s when the cartels, which had operated for decades in Mexico’s northern provinces, began to gain the kind of power that made them de facto rulers over vast expanses of sovereign territory.

Valeria (Isabelle Ortega) alone has kept the family estate running for fifteen years and is awaiting the return of her mother Maite (Yetta Gottesman) and her half-sister Anita (Diana Romo). The reunion is bittersweet as Valeria explains the current political climate and the dire effect it is having on the Hacienda el Nogalar.

Maite will have none of it. She remains in high spirits, oblivious to the ominous developments occurring just beyond the gates of her estate. Anita, too, can’t understand why things have changed since she was a little girl, but she is more receptive to her half-sister’s warnings.

The “mañas” (drug cartels) won’t stay outside the gates much longer, and unless the family pays them off, they will forfeit their home. Ignoring Valeria’s warnings, Maite does nothing and watches as they lose it all to their servant Lopez (Justin Huen), who’s quickly gaining acceptance into the world of the cartels.

Sanchez’s sexually charged text in English, Spanish, and Spanglish effectively suggests the family’s dilemma. Anita understands Spanish but cannot speak it; in this strange cross-border world, she is adrift. Where once the boundary berween English and Spanish-speaking worlds might have also marked a line between two cultures and two vastly different sets of economic reality, now in the violent trans-border world of the cartels the two cultures, the two languages blend together into a single malevolent underworld. What does it matter which tongue you speak when you are dealing with people who have come to take what isn’t theirs?

For people like Lopez or the housekeeper Dunia (Sabina Zuniga Varela), as it was for the Russian serfs in Chekhov’s drama, the socio-economic forces obliterating the old order present opportunity — opportunity they could miss out on entirely if they don’t act aggressively.

With one exception, Saracho has removed all men from her play. This isn’t the first time this has been done with a Chekov adaptation, but in this case, it works to its advantage rather than coming across as gimmicky. While the boys go out to play with toy guns, the women remain at home to tend to household necessities. Only, in this case, the matriarch Maite is so deeply rooted in denial she cannot or will not see that those play guns have been exchanged for real ones.

Director Laurie Woolery creates a deeply affecting universe that allows for the four talented actresses to bite into their roles. Unfortunately and perhaps because of the confines of the small stage at the Fountain Theatre, their performances at times seem restrained and some of the staging is awkward (especially for most of Huen’s monologues.) There are instances where you get the feeling that the actors want to break out and fill out the bigger-than-life roles that Saracho has created.

Still, they each manage to shine. Gottesman is perfectly suited to play the vivacious, matriarch Maite and Ortega is a comic delight when taking on the persona of the martyr. Valera is deliciously child-like and deceptive, while Romo’s not-quite petulant Anita is subtly layered. Huen is charming and sexy as he moves among the women, making it easy to believe why almost all of them have cast their eye on him at one point or another.

Performances through March 11 at The Fountain Theatre. For tickets and information, call (323) 633-1525 or please visit the theater’s website at www.FountainTheatre.com.

God of Carnage at ICT

What’s worse than boys behaving badly? It’s when their parents get together to resolve, in a civil and polite manner, a dispute between the lads and end up stripping themselves of any social niceties.

French playwright Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage in the translation by Christopher Hampton is a non-stop encounter where scathing words and undermining relentlessness manage to turn a playground dust-up into all out civil war.

Two 11-year olds, each the son of two sets of parents, Annette (Alet Taylor) and David Raleigh (Alet Taylor and David Nevell), and Veronica and Michael Novak (Leslie Stevens and Greg Derelian), get into an altercation in Cobble Hill Park after one boy refuses to let the other join his gang.

Veronica and Michael’s son ends up losing a couple of teeth and they demand restitution. That night both sets of parents converge at the Novak’s to discuss the incident. Polite conversation quickly degenerates into arguments, fights, and attacks – pitting couple against couple and spouse against spouse. From the start, the adults are uncomfortable in this situation.

Alan, a high-power lawyer simply can’t believe he’s at this meeting mediating a dispute between kids, when he’s got better things to do – like covering up for a pharmaceutical corporation that’s about to get into hot water. The more laid-back Michael, a down-to-earth household wholesaler, loathes dealing with it, too, along with a sick mother on the phone.

Reza, an expert in the inner workings of superficial middle-class civility, takes an acid tongue and slowly corrodes away the lacquer of good society – delving into the carnal instincts that have made the carnage god such a powerful deity, despite civilization’s attempts to suppress him. She tackles issues of parental responsibility, painting it with tones of hypocrisy and pretension.

This is the first regional production of the play and International City Theatre has produced an attractive and talented group with director caryn desai (sic) taking the helm. She manages to keeps the play on track, never allowing for any lag, but despite the breezy nature of the play, the satire is almost completely buried and lost in the all-too-calculated performances of the four actors.

It’s not until the centerpiece of the play – Annette vomiting all over the couch, the coffee table, and Veronica’s precious art books (a great stage gag, too!) – that we finally see them comfortably in their characters.

Performances through February 19 at International City Theatre at Long Beach Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information, please visit www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

No Good Deed at [Inside] the Ford

The melding of different genres to tell a story on stage is a tricky art that can either transcend a theatergoer’s experience or leave one scratching the head as he or she rushes out of the theatre.

For a production company, such power should be wielded gingerly. The question, no matter what other considerations are involved remains: Does it help the play? More importantly: is it necessary?

Ultimately, success or failure wholly depends on the strength of the script. Furious Theatre Company’s production of Matt Pelfrey’s No Good Deed is promising. Its ambitious goal, by blending conventional playwriting with the graphic novel format, is to create a hybrid that showcases the best of both worlds. The results leave much to be desired.

“No Good Deed” focuses on a teenager, Josh Jaxon (Nick Cernoch), who is swept up in media frenzy when he rescues a young woman from a vicious attack. He is deemed a hero along with a security guard Danny Diamond (Troy Metcalf), and a fireman Bryant Feld (Shawn Lee). Things quickly turn sour when the media scrutiny gets to be more than any of them can bear. Jaxon, a budding graphic novelist, turns to his alter ego Hellbound Hero to help him cope with the school bullies who tease him over his newfound celebrity.

Blending together clichéd elements from your standard high school drama of nerds, bullies, and teenage angst along with a quotidian tale of family dysfunction, the play is a black comedy with little humor and an overabundance of emoting. The all-too-familiar set-ups make up the bulk of the play.

It’s not to say that in the context of the superimposed graphic novel, melodrama and deliberate cliché don’t have their place – quite the opposite — but it becomes a matter of how such elements are deployed, and in this case, they too often miss the mark.

When such scenes do work, they give off a shining, concise glimpse of what this play could deliver: chilling commentary on the media and the power they have over every day good Samaritans. Such scenes include the talk show segment that introduces the three heroes and the David Letterman Top 10 List scene that suggests the pressure these heroes endure at the hands of the cruel media.

The rest of the script, however, leaves more unanswered questions than answers. Part of the problem is that the characters are unlikable. It doesn’t help that the second act goes off on a tangent by suggesting it is illicit drug use that fuels these heroes’ super powers. It’s not that we, as an audience cannot sympathize with anti-heroes such as these, but as presented in this incarnation, this muddled, unfocused play is too self-consciously trying to get somewhere rather than letting things simply happen via the dramatic arc.

Performances through February 26 at [Inside] the Ford. For tickets and information, please visit fordtheatres.org or call 323-461-3673.

Fruit Fly at Celebration Theatre

It’s like a weird date with new parents – you know what I mean: an invitation to their home for drinks and conversation. Before you know it, you’re strapped to the living room couch as they break out the home movies and endless baby pictures.

When Leslie Jordan does it, it’s pure enjoyment and this time around it is you who is begging him to pull out even more photos.

Jordan’s new one-man show, Fruit Fly delights in the ups and downs of growing up a southern gay man with an understanding mother, though you don’t have to be from the South to identify with Jordan. Anecdotal in nature, “Fruit Fly” wastes no time getting to the core of the piece. Jordan, the diminutive actor best known for his role as Beverly Leslie, the sexually ambiguous (really??) nemesis to Megan Mullally’s Karen Walker on “Will and Grace” and as the Tammy Wynette-obsessed Brother Boy in “Sordid Lives,” takes command of the stage and keeps his audience in rapt attention for the duration of the show, never once letting up on the hilarious asides and delicious personal tidbits about life with mother!

A gracious host in his own element (the set a cozy southern home designed by Jimmy Cuomo), Jordan welcomes us with open arms, a sassy tongue, and ready to dispense gossip, mostly about himself, really.

He touches upon his sheltered upbringing in a garden designed for his feminine affinity for dolls, dressing up, and red cowboy boots. He talks about his father and you can tell he admired and loved him deeply, despite the fact that he was ashamed of his son being a “sissy.”

It’s with his mother, Peggy Ann, that he is most able to be himself, but it’s not all mint juleps and jonquils on the veranda on a summer night in the Jordan household. Being a teenager in the early 70s was enough to cause a giant rift in his relationship with his beloved mom. It’s not as though he could greet gentlemen callers on his porch, no, he had to find them at the local cruising parks. And yet, despite his behavior (and some of mom’s own eccentricities), this ode to his mother never becomes a platform for bashing her.

Under director David Galligan’s guidance, “Fruit Fly” feels like stand-up comedy. But it’s more than that. The comedy vibe brings in the audience, but it’s Jordan’s sensibility that moves us beyond that. Some of his observations about being gay and losing a parent go right to the heart and manage to pull out a few tears here and there, but never at the expense of cheap sentimentality. When you’re not choking back tears, they flow from sheer laughter.

6th Avenue’s production of NERVE

How much baggage can people bring to a first date?

Anyone who’s been in that situation can attest to the fact that no matter what lengths we go to hide the quirks that might lead others to label us as neurotic, weird, and downright crazy, they will eventually show up somewhere between the initial meeting and the first kiss.

Whether there will be a next date really depends on what happens in between.

Adam Szymkowicz’s play, Nerve takes us on that trajectory of a first date – a carefully constructed analysis of emotions that mirrors the history of a full relationship – all in one evening of drinks, dancing, and confessions.

The play begins with Elliot (Adam Silver) and Susan (Anna Rubley) arriving at a dive bar to get to know each other better after their obligatory first movie together. They originally met on an online dating service. Tension is high as they set out to delve into one another’s psyche. In the course of one night, Elliot and Susan proclaim their love for each other, their darkest secrets, and twice share a kiss that changes their lives forever.

Sixth Avenue’s Los Angeles premiere of this play, set in New York City, is ideally suited for any major city where large concentrations of single people live their lives in isolation. Szymkowicz’s taut comedy touches on our fears and uncertainties about opening up to another human being at the risk of getting hurt. The script is deceptively simple in its execution, but the beauty of the play is in the playwright’s ability to transcend the superficial banter of two complete strangers desperately trying to connect and achieving an underlying subtext that gets under your skin and tears away at your own insecurities.

When Elliot jokingly wishes he had a knife to carve their names on the bar table and Susan casually digs out a kitchen knife from her purse, we know that this is not your typical first date yet, in so many others ways, it is.

Adam Silver and Anna Rubley are perfectly matched in the characters of Elliot and Susan. Their great (broad) comedic timing and expertly balanced pathos and sincerity make for a satisfying evening. Silver’s sense of urgency translates to a neurotic who hasn’t gotten laid in some time, not because he isn’t cute (in a nerdy sort of way), but because he just can’t seem to learn from his past restraining orders and previous stints in jail.

On the other side of that spectrum, Rubley’s Susan vacillates between sensibility and giving in to spontaneity. She juggles suicidal ex-boyfriends while gaining empowerment through cutting her wrists. When she is bored she choreographs dance sequences (wonderfully devised by Laura Harrison) that illustrate her joys and her pains.

Sound designer Cricket S. Meyer’s use of 80s power ballads playfully underscore the action on stage and set designer Stephen Gifford’s realistic set, which includes an old Wurlitzer jukebox circa 1960s, anchors the play to the reality of the situation.

Michael Matthews’s direction steers the whole evening down a roller coaster of emotions that eerily parallels a real first date – almost too eerily. Or perhaps it’s just that Szymkowicz has mastered the art of cynicism all too well (when Elliot mentions that love is forever, peals of laughter permeate the audience.) Yes, this is a city of cynics and we can all sympathize with both Elliot and Susan — right up to that first kiss and beyond…excess baggage in tow.

Performances through January 28 at The El Centro Theatre – Chaplain Stage, 804 N. El Centro Ave., in Hollywood. For tickets, please visit http://www.6thavenue.org.

The Romance of Magno Rubio

Lonnie Carter’s The Romance of Magno Rubio is an Obie award-winning adaptation of Carlos Bulosan’s short story that tells the simple story a young, love-struck farm worker in 1930s California Central Valley. He has fallen in love with a woman who is nearly six feet tall and who weighs almost two hundred pounds. At face value, it seems hardly the stuff of which great plays are made, but like some of the best plays out there, it is the sum of its parts that elevates it into a compelling story.

When you consider that this young man is only four feet six inches tall, the comedic aspect of the play starts to take shape. Carter’s play, however, is not content with being simply about the incongruence of mismatched body sizes. Mango Rubio (Jon Jon Briones) is Filipino: “Dark as a coconut; Head small on a body like a turtle’s.” He is also in love with a white woman he met in a personals page on the back of a magazine.

He’s never met her in person, but he’s working hard to send her money and buy her gifts. If you remember (and most people probably don’t – which is also the beauty of this play – Filipinos were subject to Asian Exclusion Acts and were prohibited from buying land, owning houses or even businesses, and were often the victims of beatings and lynchings. When it came to the matters of the heart, the law had much to say: Filipino men could not marry Caucasian women and if they did, the women were liable to lose their American citizenship.

Told partly in rhymed couplets and incorporating traditional Filipino art forms, such as the use of the rattan sticks used by Eskrima, the martial arts of the Philippines, “The Romance of Magno Rubio” is epic storytelling that casts a magical spell on the audience.

Songs (additional lyrics and text by Ralph Pena) and rhythmic movement peppered throughout the script help tell this story involving Magno and his fellow Filipino migrant workers (the manongs). Like Magno, they all have their goals: Prudencio (Antoine Reynaldo Diel) the cook pines for his wife in the Philippines; Nick (Giovanni Ortega) is educated and longs to save up enough money to matriculate himself into a university; Claro (Erick Esteban) is in search of El Dorado – perhaps a legend of hidden gold in the mountains, but a real one in his eyes.

While they tease Magno Rubio for his foolish infatuation with an Arkansas woman, their harsh words are also a reflection of their own attitudes towards the perceived absurdity of achieving their own dreams. Still, like Magno Rubio’s determination and persistence to marry his Clarabelle (Elizabeth Rainey) the indomitable human spirit is not easily broken. Even as he and his fellow countrymen toil away under harsh weather conditions and deplorable behavior from their foreman so that they might earn a place in this country, sometimes that is not enough. For Magno Rubio it comes crashing down when he learns that his Clarabelle is a gold digger. If “The Romance of Magno Rubio” has a message, it is this: it’s not the goal but the journey that counts.

Yet all is not doom and gloom. Despite its darker tones, there is a sense of exuberance that permeates the play. Under Bernardo Bernardo’s direction, the action moves forward briskly, it is very clear that the play’s message is not an indictment of the American dream, but a celebration of the struggle to be included. Bulosan said that he could love America even though it did not love him. It is a romance that anyone who has immigrated to this country can easily grasp.

Macha Theatre’s Greta’s Cuban Lover

Odalys Nanin knows her Golden Age of Hollywood inside and out. Or, more precisely, she knows her lesbian history as it played out in the private homes of Hollywood royalty.

In this case, it is Mercedes de Acosta’s penchant for long pants and exotic leading ladies that is the subject of Nanin’s 2001 play, “Garbo’s Cuban Lover.” There is a reason why she was known as “a lover to the stars.” She bedded (whether rumored or confirmed – mostly confirmed) among others: Alla Nazimova, Ona Munson, Tallulah Bankhead, Isadora Duncan and Marlene Dietrich, but it is her greatest love, her soul mate Greta Garbo, upon which this play hinges.

The play opens late in de Acosta’s (Odalys Nanin) life as her muse, Isadora Duncan, played by the enchanting Erin Holt, tends to her recent brain surgery. We’re immediately swept back to the early 1920s, at the moment that she meets the Swedish film actress Greta Garbo. Over the course of nearly thirty years, we see their unpredictable relationship flourish – mostly stoic retorts from Garbo (delivered with delightfully dry wit by Elyse Mirto) to de Acosta that “I vant to be alone.”

During that period, de Acosta secures a contract at MGM where she butts heads with Irving Thalberg (John Nagle.) Tension in this Sapphic melodrama turns up a notch when the sexually free Marlene Dietrich (Julia Kostenevich) makes advances on de Acosta. Stuck between true love and lust, de Acosta, naturally, indulges both. Always the free spirit and progressive thinker, she presaged the free love of the 60s counterculture and advocated for same-sex marriage, even at a time when it was inconceivable to do so.

The many layers that make de Acosta such a compelling character are vividly brought to life by an imaginative script, full of humor and pathos that blends fact and fiction into one seamless, plausible narrative.

Shon LeBlanc’s costumes and a simple Art Deco set piece transport us to Hollywood’s Golden Age; and Nanin’s direction (along with co-director Laura Butler) is fluid enough to keep the action flowing like champagne at a Golden Age Hollywood party.

The ensemble cast is superb. Lisa Merkin as Salka Viertel delivers her lines with sublime humor; Mirto is dead-on as Garbo, offering up an amazing performance; as Thalberg, John Nagle, the only male in this cast, holds his own.

Unfortunately, in taking the lead role herself and in contrast to the other nearly flawless performances, the author plays de Acosta with a Ricky Ricardo-slapstick style at odds with the overall tone. In so doing she often diminishes the poignancy of the play.

Happily the rest of this production is solid enough to overcome this miscue. This is a standout revival of a very good play.

Seascape by Edward Albee at Theatre West

Edward Albee’s “Seascape” unfolds at a beachside picnic. Nancy is thrilled and looking forward to retirement along with her husband. Oh, the places they’ll go – a couple of beach bums living along the famous coasts the world has to offer.

There is just one tiny obstacle: Charlie, her husband, does not want to travel. In fact, he doesn’t want to do anything with his life after retirement. This, of course, does not sit well with Nancy and so we’re thrust right into familiar territory – one that only Edward Albee can guide us through, albeit, with a bit more sense of humor than in most of his previous plays. There’s talk of infidelity, mortality, the roles of a husband and wife, and sex. In other words, we’re experiencing nothing new about the relationships between human beings.

That is, until they meet Leslie and Sarah. After an initial period of apprehension between the two couples, they settle into one another and soon learn that both share similar experiences. They compare notes, so to speak, — How many children do you have? etc. — Nancy sees them as a reflection of their younger selves. If not for the fact that Leslie and Sarah are human-sized lizards, this would be beach blanket version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

 

“Seascape” has as much to do with Darwin’s interpretation of evolution as it does with the evolution of relationships, human or otherwise. Theatre West’s production handles these major themes with complete understanding, beginning with a dune set (created by Jeff G. Rack.) There are no signs of human habitation here, other than what Nancy and Charlie bring in their picnic basket. It is as primordial as Albee’s metaphor: a stage set for primordial goop to slither onto the shore and begin the process of evolution right before the audience’s eyes.

Occasionally, we’re reminded that this is indeed set in modern times, cleverly suggested by Yancey Dunham’s lighting design and Charlie Mount’s sound design. Mount, who also helms the production’s direction, takes an organic approach, keeping it natural and unobtrusive, allowing the actors to play out the physicality.

Paul Gunning and Kristin Wiegand are convincing lizards adorned in Gunning’s fantastic costumes and makeup. Still, their humanity – if that is indeed the correct word to use here – shines through, never delving into parody. Arden Teresa Lewis’ Nancy adds a touch of regret to her character while still brimming with hope, while Alan Schack’s Charlie plays off his complacency with dry wit.

It is not often that Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning play gets such a near-flawless production mounted in the Southland. All the pieces fit together, making this an enjoyable treat.

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