If the pun is the lowest form of humor, then the creative team behind "It's the Housewives!" are theatrical spelunkers of the most audacious sort.
A bit of history. It seems that many of the numbers in this cheerful new musical, now at the Whitefire in Sherman Oaks, were originally performed by the novelty rock 'n' roll group the Housewives, which had a fling with fame a few years back. The songs, co-written by original group member Hope Juber and her husband, Laurence Juber, all deal with various aspects of a housewife's domestic duties and travails -- for example, "Ironing Bored" and "In Sink and at Your Disposal."
Before you start groaning, be assured that the songs themselves are genuinely clever and almost surreally goofy. Kay Cole's lively and crisp choreography -- Motown funk as filtered through a Martha Stewart special -- augments the general wackiness, as does Sharell Martin's colorful, extravagantly silly costume design. Best, the Housewives themselves -- Jamey Hood, Corinne Dekker and Jayme Lake -- are bouncy, hugely appealing "domestic divas" who, under the solid musical direction of Laurence Juber, deliver the best harmonies since "The Marvelous Wonderettes."
The problem is Hope Juber and Ellen Guylas' book, a fictionalized, purely campy account of the housewives, their rise to fame, and their painful breakup (over a disputed guacamole recipe), as related by former member Rebecca (Terri Homberg-Olsen) to her plumber (Vince Cefalu). Obviously cobbled together to accommodate the Housewives' existing repertoire, the narrative provides sufficient excuse for the musical "flashbacks" but remains a leaky premise in need of plumber's tape.
Leaky, also, is Kelly Ann Ford's direction, which never quite incorporates the show's floundering subsidiary characters into a smooth flow. The shining exception is Roger Cruz as Hugo, the lovable laundromat owner who gives the Housewives their first big break. A layered performer, Cruz makes his caricature convincingly real.
If your idea of a good night out is watching five guys in suits dancing to disco classics, "Bouncers" at the Lost Studio has your number. British playwright John Godber's rapid-fire sampling of human traffic in and out of a Yorkshire disco is back in Los Angeles and having a ball in director-choreographer Cinda Jackson's spiffy new production. On a nearly bare stage, a nattily dressed, turbocharged cast of five (Chris Coppola, David Corbett, Mark Adair-Rios, Dan Cowan and Phillip Campos) quick-change into a range of night clubbers and bust some decent moves to '70s and '80s pop classics.
Godber's satirical collage debuted at the 1977 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and achieved cult status here in 1986 when L.A. Theater Works' production ran for 11 months. With its unapologetically pelvic emphasis, you can see how the show brought a much-needed whiff of sweat and stale beer into polite English theater. Thirty years on, it's less than revolutionary but still a winning showcase for actors and a sly compendium of people watching: Hail Mary hookups, loo gossip, sidewalk dust-ups and Brit drollery. One only wishes Godber had thoroughly pursued his conceit: Building a show around bouncers -- the ultimate doorkeepers -- is a brilliant idea, but we never get much insight into who these guys are or what they want.
This is the sort of freewheeling, drink-along entertainment that belongs in a cabaret setting, with the performers dodging waitresses as they break into Michael Jackson parodies. In the formal setting of the Lost Studio, the show's raucous fun has a slightly misplaced feel despite the terrific ensemble. Here's hoping someone will move "Bouncers" to a venue where you can liquor up, dance, flirt and applaud simultaneously.
"Bouncers," the Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Ends Sept. 27. $20. Contact: (323) 933-6944. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Groundlings are good for guffaws
"The Groundlings, Your Body and You" has been running since July, which may account for its offhanded adherence to the sketches-and-ad-libs formula. With director Ted Michaels keeping his alternating cast of writer-performers in trim, this latest offering from L.A.'s premier improv troupe is generally representative mayhem.
As usual, the title is a catchall, less thematic than pragmatic, as are the interludes from music director Willie Etra and cohorts Howard Greene and Larry Treadwell. Physical humor plays a notable role in the evening. For instance, "Francisco Manor," where Andrew Friedman and Michael Naughton as hotel ghouls milk more howls from their "SCTV"-flavored inability to spook stalwart Steve Little than the premise does.
Topical humor is sparse, no political jabs, though Alex Staggs has a spastic blast in "50 Free," a unitard-clad riff on competitive swimming. Farther along the character-comedy scale, "Some of That" brings Staggs and David Hoffman into direct contact with a theoretical babe in the Venice rental they're scoping out, which fractures the house.
So does Larry Dorf, hilarious with Naughton and their future selves in "The Warning," a hoot as president of the Python-esque "Lodge." Whether tweaking radio-talk hosts as, um, specialist "Dr. Clark Edmunds" or upending the "Schoolhouse Rock" principal with Friedman in the title song that closes Act 1, Dorf is a prime nut bar among deranged equals.
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.
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