"Boise, USA," Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 29. $25 and $30. (323) 960-4420. Running time: 2 hours.
If you need a lift, take in "Assistance" an IAMA Theater production at the Working Stage. As directed by Annie McVey, the show is the theatrical equivalent of a triple-shot espresso, bristling with propulsive nerviness and high style.
The latest offering in playwright Leslye Headland's "Seven Deadly Sins" series, "Assistance" treats the sin of greed. But the beleaguered young corporate assistants in this case are not so much greedy as they are desperate to rise in a pathological hierarchy. With marathon endurance, the characters withstand killing levels of stress and the kind of soul-destroying abuse that would try the endurance of a martyr.
The action is set in the Manhattan office that could be a legal firm, an investor group or an entertainment conglomerate -- take your pick. The nature of the corporation is not as important as the corporate culture it spawns -- in this case, a toxic atmosphere corrosive to all who breathe it.
For creepy, unethical Vince (Graham Sibley), promotion has come quickly. Slower to rise, Nick (Adam Shapiro) is weighed down with a burdensome sense of morality. Others labor in the trenches with little hope of success. Heather (Stefanie Black) is a bumbling hysteric who won't last long in this exacting milieu. Justin (Wes Whitehead) functions competently -- until his last nerve frays. Yet for all of the sturm, drang and disorder around them, all these young workers hang on, bloodily and tenaciously, as if fearing a fatal fall from the cliff face.
Not so Nora (Katie Lowes), a bright and capable employee who has the temerity, after months of ill-treatment, to stand up to her monstrous boss, never seen, only briefly heard, in all his splenetic cruelty. Nora makes the rational choice to simply leave -- a defection that boggles the minds of her single-minded peers. Of course, Nora is supplanted by the rapacious Jenny (Amy Rosoff), a matter-of-fact schemer is soon tap-dancing her way -- quite literally -- to the top.
Headland's ferociously funny but somewhat derivative piece comes across as a combination of "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Swimming With Sharks" -- nothing we haven't seen before. But McVey's fast-paced staging and an exceptional cast, spearheaded by the wonderful Shapiro as an everyman forced into soul-destroying compromise, invest the material with the kind of infectious craft and energy that are fast establishing this young company as a creative new force on the local theater scene.
"Assistance," Working Stage, 1516 N. Gardner St., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends May 25. $16.50. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Chase that's a wild showcase
Throughout "Nymphony in 12-D" at the Meta Theatre, a madcap nymph pursues a gay zarzuela singer in his Ansonia Hotel room to forward his career and recharge her sexual energies.
That's a premise you don't see every day, which, despite some game performances, is virtually all that this wildly overextended showcase has going for it.
Written and directed by Gib Wallis, the alleged musical farce opens with nymphomaniac nymphet Marge (Beth Whitney) posturing through a 10-minute monologue that is a missed opportunity for laying tuner groundwork. With the arrival of closeted Brick Wilson (Rusty Hamrick), countertenor star of "The Bearded Lady of Guadalajara," the world of piano bar is upon us.
Lewd complications of a "Big Gay Sketch Show" nature arise from Brick's insecure secret boyfriend (James Gaudioso), a heterosexual aspiring singer (Barrett Kime) and Brick's plant-watering neighbor (Mercy Malick), all of whom spend much time wearing towels.
Wallis dutifully sends them romping around designer Diana Sillero's cartoon set, generating a measure of laughs from kooky cardboard props. His score consists of four indistinguishable soft-rock songs that musical director Brian Murphy cannot make sound like much more than "American Idol" auditions.
Malick, whose deranged attack suggests Jennifer Tilly on antihistamines, is a tireless standout as fern-wielding Pfeiffer. She and the stalwartly ingenuous Kime display good voices when the plot lands them in Marge's spell.
Hamrick, though suitably boyish, is not exactly a stellar vocalist, which defeats what point "Nymphony" contains, and Whitney and Gaudioso succumb to camp clichés.
So, sadly, does this pallid fable.
"Nymphony in 12-D," Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; also 8 p.m. June 20 only. Ends June 21. $25. (323) 860-6625. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.