"Words" is beautifully produced by Padua Playwrights and LaDADspace, and the evening's overall design elements -- staging, lighting, costume, sound -- achieve a striking elegance. Even the transitions, directed by Nick Faust, have an economy and grace. The writing, and some of the art that inspires it, however, turns out to be considerably more uneven.
A guide to the standouts: Coleman Hough's "Dressed for Dinner," inspired by her mealtime meetings with mixed-media artist Alberto Miyares, presents that familiar sight, an unhappy couple (Hough and Mickey Swenson) dining out, and then throws in a surreal waitress (Heidi Darchuk). Directed by Faust, "Dressed" toys with the borders we assume when going out to eat: between the raw and the cooked, between wait staff and customers, manners and truth.
The play that holds the most resonant conversation with its artwork is Darchuk's "K(nots)." Jett Jackson's painting of a man's wide back, covered with fantastical maritime figures, takes on vivid three-dimensional life at the hands of director Gill Gayle and costume designer Gwendolyn Stukely. A wheelchair-bound mermaid (Lake Sharp, alternating with Nicole Disson) pines for the silent Pegboy (Jack Littman), while a shipwreck (Lisa Denke) searches for her lost captain (Swenson again). The play feels like Max Ernst meets Jacques Lacan, a dirty joke about impossible love. I have no idea what it means, but "K(nots)" carries a weird, oneiric power.
Line for line, the best play may be Sharon Yablon's "Look Up," which transforms an innocuous event -- a real estate agent showing a family a home -- into something dementedly profane. (The artist here is Emmeric James Konrad, whose raucous charcoal cartoons capture something genuinely anarchic.) Too bad Tina Preston turns her hilariously inappropriate agent into a John Waters character from the get-go. The choice seems too easy, and the play would have benefited from a stronger directorial hand from Gray Palmer.
Is there something about visual art that compels playwrights to create a world rather than a clear narrative? Many of the plays start with a strong premise but most can't keep their focus. But like the "Car Plays" that took over the Steve Allen Theater parking lot last season, "A Thousand Words" deserves high marks for exploring the notion of what constitutes an evening of theater. If what's missing this time is a certain consistency, let's hope Padua and company revisit this experiment, ideally with sturdier results.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
"A Thousand Words," Art Share L.A., 801 E. 4th Place, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 29. $20. (213) 625-1766. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
Macbeth leads a mighty force
If you want to watch Great Birnam Wood come to High Dunsinane Hill, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better setting than Topanga's outdoor Theatricum Botanicum.
For their new production of "Macbeth," directors Ellen Geer and Chad Jason Scheppner deploy an impressively large cast that makes the most of the theater's forest environs, battling with fervor in the hills around the amphitheater. When the Thane of Cawdor (Jim LeFave, appealingly direct) broods on his murderous actions, the night itself becomes a character, its darkness mirroring Macbeth's descent into blind ambition. Even the steady throb of the canyon's insects and frogs adds to the atmosphere.
This is Shakespeare's shortest and most intense tragedy, delivered in swiftly paced scenes, with a minimum of scenery and no-frills medieval costuming; if the nuance sometimes gets lost, the story stays front and center, an action thriller to the end. All martial sinew with fellow warriors, LeFave's Macbeth creates a surprising intimacy with the audience during his soliloquies, which convey a man realizing he's unable to handle the mayhem he's unleashed.
Melora Marshall (alternating with Susan Angelo) distracts with her declamatory Lady M, but Aaron Hendry turns in credible work as the impassioned Macduff, and, as his doomed wife, Elizabeth Tobias conveys real anguish as a woman whose world is collapsing around her. If the witches feel a little like a Twyla Tharp troupe gone wild, they provide an eerie soundscape of cries and whispers for this stark, gorgeous play.
"Macbeth," Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Call or check online for schedule. (310) 455-3723, www.theatricum.com. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
Uneasy hybrid is a bit blockheaded
Ever wonder what Charlie Brown and the other "Peanuts" kids would be like in high school? Neither have I, but then that very novelty is the gimmick that will likely sell plenty of tickets for Bert V. Royal's "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead." In this "unauthorized" parody, newly revised by the author for Havok Theatre Company, the character names have been changed to protect the intellectual property rights, but there's no mistaking their targets.
The sheer incongruity of Charles Schulz's ageless innocents grappling with substance abuse, rampant hormones, sexual orientation and the peer pressures of adolescence has innate satiric potential. Director Nick DeGruccio and a talented cast mine abundant laughs from these transpositions, particularly in some well-crafted monologues, and modulate Royal's sometimes jarring shifts of tone with notable finesse.
Our narrator, called simply CB (Joseph Porter), is still the perpetual loser enslaved to predictable conformity, though the play's dark edge is apparent when we first see him mourning his faithful beagle, who had to be put to sleep after contracting rabies.