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The Return of Dr. Silkini, Ghost Show

Make way for old-time thrills and chills as “Dr. Silkini and his Original Great Ghost Show” arrives Wednesday at Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood.

“This is a show that’s been around since 1933,” said producer Steven J. Conners, who joined the show in 1959 as a gofer. In 1980, when the original Dr. Silkini died, Conners bought the rights from the magician’s widow; four years ago, he found a replacement for Silkini. “I’ve taken the stance of Shakespeare--that the play’s the thing,” the producer said. “So although there’s no way to copy the original, this person (whose real name remains a secret) has become Dr. Silkini.”

The show’s accompanying publicity stunts include burying a disc jockey alive and transporting him around town for a week in special crypts (the fortunate person is yet to be chosen) and submerging someone in 5,000 pounds of ice for 48 hours. In addition, Conners promised, “We’ll be giving away a dead body at every performance; the person can take it home, it’s theirs. If they don’t want it, well, we’ll keep it.

“It’s all done tongue-in-cheek,” he added. “There’s no satanism or occult stuff. At the core, this is an entertainment, a show that goes boo . Of course, we do have a guillotine that cuts someone’s head off . . . but it’s restored later.”

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Apropos of the holidays, the Pacific Theatre Ensemble is presenting a Christmas celebration, featuring Thornton Wilder’s “The Long Christmas Dinner.”

“It’s something we’d been thinking about for a long while,” said Anthony Grumbach, who developed the evening with D. Paul Yeuell. “Particularly in big cities, it’s hard to find singing groups at Christmas, that communal celebration. So when people come in they’ll have a glass of cider, hear poetry, some songs--and this gem of a play, which is about generations turning over: 90 years of Christmas dinners in one family.”

In an effort to share the good will with the community, the ensemble is encouraging audience members to bring bags or boxes of food--which will be turned over to the Westside Food Bank. Donors will receive a dollar off on admission.

CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: August Wilson’s Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning family drama, “Fences,” is playing at the Doolittle Theatre, with James Earl Jones reprising the role that won him a Tony. Lloyd Richards directs.

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Said Dan Sullivan in Calendar: “Jones has played King Lear, but he has never been closer to the life force than he is at the Doolittle. The thunder comes when Jones calls it, and the little moments are as perfect as a robin’s egg.”

From the Herald Examiner’s Richard Stayton: “The fences Wilson most vigorously assaults are those built by racism. . . . (Wilson also) sees fences in the souls of black Americans, fences that divide and conquer just as surely as did the slave owners’ whips.”

In the Hollywood Reporter, Jay Reiner wrote: “A character as large as Troy Maxson needs a James Earl Jones to fill his shoes, and Jones does so superbly. Lynne Thigpen brings an understated power to the role of Rose that meshes perfectly with Jones’ bravado performance.”

The Orange County Register’s Thomas O’Connor writes there is “greatness in this little big man’s tragedy and great power in Wilson’s soaring language, its rhythms and tones a beautiful burr of street earthiness and vivid imagery. And this curious world, at once distant and near, could not have a more authentic voice than Richards’ production.”

From Drama-Logue’s Lee Melville: “Seldom is a part so tailor-made for an actor. Troy Maxson is a role James Earl Jones owns because the actor gives him life without one false note. Even if he is totally unlike him, Jones knows this unfulfilled, tormented man.”

Luaine Lee, in the Pasadena Star-News, did not love Jones’ performance: “He--of the perfect diction--is so busy forming the sounds of the illiterate black that his lines are often obscured. . . . This subject has the stuff of drama, but it is a long time coming.”

Said Amy Dawes in Daily Variety: “Jones has created the role of a lifetime in Maxson . . . (Wilson’s) language, as always, is vivid and lyrical, punctuated with snatches of blues and gospel music; the play draws its strength from its unwhitewashed embrace of the vernacular in both speech and behavior.”

And from Tom Jacobs in the Daily News: “The more one sees of Wilson’s work, the more he reminds one of another great American playwright: Tennessee Williams. Like Williams, his characters are larger than life, even when they exist at the lowest levels of society.”

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