And ruthless Jill Matson-Sachoff, the sole female in the reviewed cast, retains a razor-edged aplomb that has few peers. Freaking out grade-schoolers Staggs and Friedman as a wildly inappropriate "Playdate" mom, cavorting through a pas de trois with Little's saturnine Messiah and a baby doll in the "Real Man" finale, Matson-Sachoff's sang-froid typifies this sturdy "Body." It seldom stretches past its comfort zone but finds reliable guffaws within ours.
David C. Nichols
"The Groundlings, Your Body and You," Groundlings Theater, 7307 Melrose Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays. Ends Oct. 4. $15. (323) 934-4747 Ext. 37. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
It's well acted, but 'Roses' shows age
Frank Gilroy's "The Subject Was Roses" opened on Broadway in 1964 and won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for best new drama. While the years haven't necessarily been unkind to the play, the story noticeably creaks and groans today under the weight of time and critical baggage.
The West Coast Ensemble's revival at El Centro Theatre is an assuredly acted and directed production that can't quite conceal some of the play's arthritic contrivances. Just home from World War II, Timmy (Danny Araujo) receives the royal treatment from his parents (Peter Karlin and Ferrell Marshall), who dote on their only son with a competitive spirit that hints at marital tension just below the surface.
The family's dysfunctionality explodes in the second act, when Timmy attempts to declare his independence from his parents by rejecting their Catholic faith and then moving out of their Bronx apartment. Repressed feelings and resentment surge to the fore, throwing the fragile family trinity into disarray.
With its theme of Catholic guilt and alcoholism as destructive agents of the domestic fabric, "The Subject Was Roses" often scans like imitation Eugene O'Neill. The mother's self-sacrifice to her husband and son may have seemed virtuous decades ago, but today it just feels quaint. And the father's egomaniacal tirades merely come off as constipated, pre-counterculture machismo.
Director Claudia Jaffee and her admirable cast keep the play's emotional vectors clean and spare, rendering the family melodrama with pinpoint precision. But keeping Gilroy's old-fashioned rose garden in bloom is a losing battle, requiring more magic than any cast could possibly muster.
"The Subject Was Roses," El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro, Hollywood. 8 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays. Ends Sept. 18. (323) 460-4443 or www.westcoastensemble.org/. $15. Running time: 2 hours.
A state of dread in 'Chalk Boy'
The town of Clear Creek has been misnamed. There's a creek, all right, but it's far from clear. A toxic streak through a littered landscape, the creek hides a grim secret under its stew of hamburger wrappers and castoff tires.
A co-production of Company of Angels and the Management, Joshua Conkel's "The Chalk Boy," now in its West Coast premiere at downtown's historic Alexandria Hotel, is being simultaneously produced in both Los Angeles and New York. Perhaps the New York production will fare better than the one in L.A., which misses more often than it hits.
The plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a local youth, the Chalk Boy, whose uncertain fate holds a tiny Washington state community in a state of suspended expectation and dread.
Note the chalkboards flanking Brandon Sale's rudimentary set -- one scrawled with mathematical equations, the other with obscene graffiti -- and you'll get an idea of the theme. For the four angst-ridden teenage girls in the play, life isn't adding up. In fact, it's proving disturbingly evanescent. Lauren (Amy Patrice Golden) finds comfort in Christianity. Trisha (Claire Bocking) gets strength from unalloyed rage. Sad Penny (Sarah Rosenberg) casts Wiccan spells for some illusion of power. Meanwhile, Penny's best friend, Breanna (Sonora Chase), wrestles with her secret love for Penny.
Under the direction on Courtney Sale, the actors play to the outermost perimeters of their stereotypes, often to a fault. To his credit, Conkel tackles huge, potentially resonant issues, but his meaning falls through the cracks of his undisciplined story structure. The characters' knee-jerk nastiness seems designed more for the plot's expediency than from any understandable motivation. "Bad Girls" on Prozac, "The Chalk Boy" is as fervid and random as a hormonal teenage girl and as annoying.
F. Kathleen Foley
"The Chalk Boy," the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St., 3rd Floor, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 12. $15. (323) 883-1717 www.companyofangelstheater.org. Running time: 2 hours.