'Need to Know'; 'Dark Side of Moon'; 'Showing Age'

You don't usually see Morse code in a theater program, but then former military intelligence analysts don't often fess up to an early attraction to Raggedy Andy dolls. Both are on view in "The Need to Know," written and performed by ex-Air Force officer April Fitzsimmons, now playing once a month at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.

The apple-cheeked Fitzsimmons, who looks like Ashley Judd's chipper cousin, recalls the heroines of her favorite books as she marshals her inner Harriet the Spy, Pippi Longstocking and Lolita to bust out of her blue-collar Mexican-Irish Catholic family and fall into a passionate love affair with her Nietzsche-reading camp counselor -- and the armed forces.

Briskly directed by Steven Anderson, the long-running "Need" follows Fitzsimmons from training to an intel assignment in Italy, and ultimately through her disenchantment with U.S. foreign policy. Though the wry performer has a sharp eye for detail and character, her story can feel oddly generic. She tends to abbreviate for entertainment value, sometimes giving her colorful life the short shrift she accuses the military of offering when it reports to the public on international relations. Still, she's an irrepressible presence, and it's refreshing to go behind the uniform with a direct source. And check out that Morse code message. Hint: It's by another playwright.

--Charlotte Stoudt

"The Need to Know," Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Sunday, June 10 and July 22. $20, free for veterans. (310) 880-0911. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Dancing to the light of 'Moon'

Why fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way by merely listening to "The Dark Side of the Moon" when you can see it accompanied by an original dance/movement performance piece? Such is the gauntlet thrown down by Berubians Theatre Company with its ensemble-developed no-frills workshop production that sets out to physicalize the archetypal themes of conflict, insanity, aging, death and resurrection in Pink Floyd's signature 1973 concept album. Well, as archetypal as the band's post-Syd Barrett incarnation ever got. Still, with more than 40 million copies sold, it's a safe bet there's an audience for this one among die-hard fans.

Played straight through without embellishing dialogue or narrative bridges, the recorded song cycle, with its extensive use of environmental sounds and elliptical snippets of spoken text, provides just enough structural hooks for a suggestive allegorical fable about the evolution of the human spirit and its perpetual struggle with good and evil.

Amid the familiar heartbeats and opening strains of "Breathe in the Air," the dancers awaken in a short-lived state of innocence only to be enslaved in a self-destructing robotic assembly line in the frenetic "On the Run." Out of the ruins comes the "Time" segment about the dawn of love and its shadow-side -- jealousy -- culminating in a crimson-lit orgy of inventive erotic poses. Very handy to be taking notes.

The lyrics limit the scenes' dramatic specificity -- the ever-popular "Money" affords an energetic tour of consumer vices, whereas the interminable "Great Gig in the Sky" bogs down in abstraction. Filling the whole album entails a fair amount of rehashing images of temptation, fall and resurrection.

Still, director-choreographer Chris Berube stylishly integrates the considerable skill variation in his 17-member troupe. In the more individualized iconic lead performances, Janice Anderson's earth goddess/redeemer has obvious Christ overtones as she battles Francis Langsang's madman-as-fallen-angel, while Maria Olsen's delightfully feral, snarling temptress makes a convincing case that it may not be nice to fool with the Dark Side, but it sure is a lot of fun.

--Philip Brandes

"Dark Side of the Moon," Next Stage Theater, 1523 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 25. $15. (323) 850-7827. Running time: 45 minutes.

Senior moments, musicalized

It takes true grit to weather the challenges of old age -- not only for the elderly but also for caregivers, who may be hard pressed to handle their needy, often recalcitrant charges.

That's the obvious message behind "Showing Our Age," the sincerely intended but reductive new musical at Inside the Ford, which tackles the challenges faced by senior citizens before getting badly sidetracked.

The two central characters are Frank (amusingly irascible Ramon Hilario), a frequently married World War II vet, and his daughter Grace (effective Rose Portillo), an unmarried development executive who was effectively abandoned by her father at an early age. Fiercely independent, Frank is failing but refuses to admit that he needs help. While Grace tries to cope with this father that she barely knows, various oldsters share their own stories in both monologue and song.

Presented by About Productions, "Age" was written by Laurel Ollstein with "contributions from" Portillo, Doris Baizley, Joyce Guy, Denise Uyehara and Steven Wolfson, who co-wrote the lyrics with Ollstein. The mostly undistinguished music is by Melody Butiu and Robert Anderson (also musical director), with additional music by Dave Iwataki. Ollstein and Theresa Chavez direct.

The donors don't end there. The piece is based on actual interviews with local seniors, although where the true accounts end and the fictionalization begins is unclear.

What is clear is that too many cooks have rendered this stew of anecdotes unpalatable. What starts as an examination of the challenges facing seniors turns into a World War II docudrama. One or two first-person tales from the war would certainly have been appropriate, but collectively they split the narrative thread into halves that never reconnect. The cast, which includes Butiu, Ralph Cole Jr., Kevin Sifuentes and Bernadette Sullivan, struggles to interject some pizazz into this fractured effort, but it's an uphill effort under heavy fire.

--F. Kathleen Foley

"Showing Our Age," Inside the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Hollywood. 11 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 27. $20. (323) 461-3673. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.