"Amphitryon 38" is S. N. Behrman's loving spin of Jean Giraudoux's French adaptation of a licentious Roman farce by Plautus. That is an imposing pedigree. But what is tough to negotiate is Behrman's demand that a Greco-Roman bedroom joke serve the radiance of mortal love.
Director Lonny Chapman and the Group Repertory Theatre at least meet half the challenge: The love part, not the farce.
The production opens with a twinkly "Stairway to Heaven" image, sweetly evoked by designer Arlan Boggs.
Jupiter and his sidekick, Mercury, are perched on a cloud looking at the Earth below. Jupiter (a suave Tom Regan) decides to experience mortal delights and seduce the beautiful wife of the warrior Amphitryon (an outraged Philip McKeown). The tone is mischievous, as befits a travesty of gods and heroes.
Once dropped to Earth, however, events turn alternately histrionic and flat. The necessary romp and abandon pick up thereafter, but the delicacy of the piece wavers precariously.
The color-blind and gender-blind casting are inspired. The devoted Theban wife Alkmena is cast black, with a bedazzling and exuberant Gloria Rusch. And the angel Mercury, traditionally cast with a male, is freshly parlayed by Colette Combadere. Another player, Claudia Fenton, buttresses the production with inventive and funny dancing.
The rewards are in the celestial scenes and in Behrman's defense of marital love, if you have the patience to endure the islands of silliness.
Performances at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, Fridays through Sundays, 8 p.m., through Oct. 29. Tickets: $10. (818) 769-PLAY.
The Shakespeare Society of America used to do plays like "Richard III." But now the theater is giving us Vlad the Impaler. He wields a big wooden staff with a sharp point. He impales non-Christians.
Debuting playwright and horror genre devotee Ron Magid has mixed melodrama and the flair of 1950s comic books with the historic, 15th-Century Romanian bloodsucker, Prince Dracula, a.k.a. Vlad. You thought Hitler was bad? Idi Amin? Jean-Bedel Bokassa?
Magid claims that "Dracula Tyrannus," subtitled "The Tragical History of Vlad the Impaler," is the first attempt to dramatize the real Dracula, who reportedly murdered 100,000 people and later inspired Bram Stoker's fictional "King of the Vampires."
Director David George and a hearty band of playmakers are starkly led by Christopher Nixon, who seductively essays the title role in flowing black hair.
The staging, albeit too tableaux-like, is notable for Michael Berger's musky lighting design and production designer Zen Mansley's special effects, which include a smoking mound of skulls reminiscent of the human decay in "The Killing Fields." Impressive among the 24-member cast are Robert Factor's loyalist, Bernard Erhard's sultan, and Lesa Lockford as Dracula's troubled wife.
The cast wisely plays it straight in a raw enterprise that seems a healthy switch for executive producer Thad Taylor. But crucial work remains. Playwright Magid must examine how to tighten the plot and streamline the creaky structure.
Performances run at the Globe Playhouse, 1107 N. Kings Road, Thursdays through Sundays, 8 p.m., through Oct. 9. Tickets: $8.50-$17.50. (213) 654-5623.
'Robert Frost: 'Fire and Ice'
Seven years ago, actor Arthur Peterson introduced a one-man show on Robert Frost at the Interim Playhouse in Pasadena. He had to stop because he didn't have rights from the Frost estate. Now he does, and his show, "Robert Frost: Fire and Ice," at the Commonwealth Theater, is an evocative tribute to a great poet.
Peterson (the Major on the sitcom "Soap") has been acting for 50 years, and his impeccable vocal control and physical technique vivify Frost and his poetry.
We see the celebrated Frost, but miss his gritty and irascible side. A folksiness tends to dog the show.
In the production's most personal scene, Peterson dramatizes an encounter between himself at age 27 and the much older Frost while Peterson was chauffeuring Frost en route to catch a train.
At the end of this 90-minute show, which is framed by Frost addressing a university class, Peterson sends you away with renewed appreciation for an indelible figure. Ellen Bailey directed, and June August and Peterson selected and shaped the material.
Performances at 540 S. Commonwealth Ave., Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m., through Oct. 30. Tickets: $7-$10. (213) 385-1341.
'The Last Dance of the Couch Potatoes'
Dolores not only looks like a potato; she's the certified couch variety--a wreck of a TV addict in a leopard-spotted robe, gouging on junk food and fantasizing bizarre alter egos, including a rock star whose breasts are real bullets.
"The Last Dance of the Couch Potatoes," written and headlined by Dolores Deluce, is a three-character, multimedia, 80-minute electronic sendup that's campy enough to bring Divine back from the dead or revive Yvonne DeCarlo. If that tickles you.
Moving over from an earlier run at the Powerhouse to the Odyssey, the show glories in physical messiness. Drunken house parties have less disarray. J. Gonzales' direction is pure Toonerville. The self-conscious, squat Deluce (known in her underground theater days as Dolores Deluxe) is hard to laugh with, let alone at.
But the original and live three-piece musical accompaniment is sharp, and a pair of "fries on the side," the versatile Jennifer Winkler and the zestful Cynthia Scott, hoof up assorted storms. What's lethal is the derivative material in between the songs.
Performances at 12111 Ohio Ave., 8 p.m., Mondays only, indefinitely. Tickets: $10. (213) 826-1626 .
'Full Moon and High Tide in the Ladies Room'
This Company of Angels production at the West End Playhouse is not to be confused with "Ladies Room" at the Tiffany. The setting for the two plays is indeed a women's restroom in a bar, but the similarity ends there.
Playwright Marcia Haufrecht's title, "Full Moon and High Tide in the Ladies Room," hints at pretension, and this toilet doth runneth over. Suicide, abortion, self-absorption, women who hate men, losers, you name it, they're here. Sex is no big deal either; that theme could be promising but here it's depressing. And why do so many of the characters wear scruffy black pants?
The direction by Carol Ries is frequently pitched to a screech. It's fingernails-on-the-blackboard-time. Of the eight actresses, only Mary Wickliffe as a thespian-waitress stands out. Then, too, she's the only likable character. Judith Bridges is enjoyably animated. The set suggests an employee john in a factory that manufactures hemp.
What has happened to the Company of Angels? Arson cost the company its Hollywood home last April, and the producers who run the West End Playhouse are sharing their facility with the beleaguered Angels. That's a nice theater story. But this full moon and high tide are out of sync.
Performances at 7446 Van Nuys Blvd., Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m., through Nov. 2. Tickets: $10. (213) 467-1767.