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‘Country of Young’ at Celtic Arts; ‘La Ronde’ at Harman Avenue; ‘Bodies Once Young’ at Beyond Baroque; ‘Joseph’ in Long Beach; ‘Generations’ by Colony

A play dramatizing the relationship between poet William Butler Yeats and the fierce Irish nationalist Maud Gonne is a curiosity whose appeal might point to literati and keepers of the Gaelic flame.

But in this West Coast premiere of “The Country of the Young” at the Celtic Arts Center, Yeats’ unrequited love for tempestuous freedom-fighter Gonne in turn-of-the-century Ireland assumes a gnarling passion that is absorbing as theater and literary history.

Playwright Susie Burke shows us Yeats in his middle 20s, before his fame, when he is bedazzled by the beautiful, wealthy, agrarian protest leader Gonne, who enlists him in her cause to free Ireland.

As Yeats, sublimating his love for Gonne into his art, Michael Bryan is endearing in his restrained ardor. Vikki Powell’s heroine catches the force of a suffragist, a worldly, rebellious woman who sublimates her own human passions, including her children, to the cause of Ireland.

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Yeats once wrote in an unpublished memoir that Gonne became “the troubling time of my life,” and director Brendan Dillon accelerates the churning rhythms of a relationship that both inspires and agonizes the virginal Yeats.

Most interesting, in this two-character play, is the couple’s literary/political axis, a kind of surrogate sex. But undying patience takes its toll on Yeats. The characters, through the decade or so that we follow them, tumble into deepening confrontations.

The play’s staging suffers ragged moments. A desk and settee fail to counter the dankness of the interior set design. But this earthly reduction of lofty figures never deflates or demeans the subjects.

At 5651 Hollywood Blvd., Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 3 p.m., through March 26. Tickets: $6-$10; (213) 462-6844.

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‘La Ronde’

A carrousel of sexual entanglements in decadent Vienna, Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s “La Ronde” slips in and out of focus in Martin Magner’s production at the Harman Avenue Theatre.

The show enjoys sybaritic moments as it spins through 10 seductive dialogues. Actors Stephanie White, Tim Didlake, Rick Telles and Ron Brooks stylishly catch the promiscuity and the last hurrah of Hapsburg Vienna.

But director Magner, a specialist in modern central European drama, has discarded the traditional Eric Bentley translation for a new and more idiomatic translation by Carl R. Mueller. The contemporary shift in tone alternately wings the play out of Imperial Vienna (turn-of-the century nightshirts notwithstanding). In one instance of miscasting, Jeffrey Winner’s abrasively clownish poet blows the fin de siecle aura altogether.

Schnitzler, a contemporary of Freud, wrote with the dispassion of the physician he was. And the majority of Magner’s 10-member cast mirrors the cynical, furtive dance of loveless love (Stacey Havener’s deceptive sweetness is a plum). But too many of these shifting duets end up as cardboard sex instead of Schnitzler’s intricate betrayals. On the other hand, the lascivious actress and the count (White and Didlake) epitomize the cynical intangibles of an overripe Vienna. There are Strauss waltzes in the air, but no student prince.

At 521 La Brea Ave., Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m., through April 2. Tickets: $8-$12; (213) 466-1767.

‘Bodies Once Young’

Beyond Baroque’s theater wing is committed to the use of language, and in the case of “Bodies Once Young,” the company is dramatizing two short stories, Sherwood Anderson’s “The Man Who Became a Woman” and “Fudge” by Meridel Le Sueur.

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Director Alec Doyle’s evocation of these Midwestern monologues is seductive, pristine, almost bleached in the production’s lean and clean verbal momentum.

In “Fudge,” first published in “Fantasy” magazine in 1933 and adapted by Martin Worman, performer Jay W. MacIntosh’s rich country accent has to fight echoic stage acoustics, but she prevails. Her portrait of a woman looking out her window and recreating a woeful tale of lost opportunity is quietly riveting.

The more bizarre solo turn is by Joseph G. Medalis playing a husband taking a bath in “The Man Who Became a Woman,” from Anderson’s short-story collection “Horses and Men” (1923) and adapted by William Lanteau and director Doyle. Easy preconceptions make the title misleading but it makes psychological sense.

Medalis is sublime splashing water around in his old-fashioned bathtub with its four little feet. His character blithely shares his strange coming-of-age story, concerning an attraction for a racehorse when he was a youthful groom on the fairgrounds circuit.

The evening is short but unique, with expressive acting turning the first-person narrative form into theatrical coinage.

At the Old Venice City Hall, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice, Saturdays and Sundays, 8 p.m., through March 19. Tickets: $8; (213) 822-3006.

‘Joseph’

The Long Beach Community Playhouse is staging the nostalgic “Joseph,” a young man’s reminiscence of his childhood growing up in his father’s New York deli in the Depression.

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The new play by Long Beach playwright Arthur Josephs has 13 cast members, four of whom give credible performances: Ralph Richmond’s boisterous Jewish father figure, Jesse Sweeney as his young son, Jim Grollman as the young boy grown up, and Dennis Mooney’s staunch family friend.

But stereotypical characters abound. Director Robert Telford’s staging is flat and stiff. The show has no momentum or respect for detail. We’re in the early 1930s and hear the father describe Trotsky’s murder, which didn’t occur until 1940.

At 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, tonight and Saturday only, 8 p.m. Tickets: $9; (213) 494-1616.

‘Generations’

The Colony’s generational drama at the Studio Theatre Playhouse features strong acting and a textured production design. But these rewards are lavished on a crisis that never generates tension.

Set outside a family cabin in the Oregon mountains, “Generations” by Dennis Clontz is overwrought with relationships difficult to sort out and slow to gather momentum.

The play’s catalyst, who alights from her cabin in the second act, is a mentally ailing mother with brief intimations of awareness (distinctively played by Kathryn Fuller).

Frustrations fester among the old lady’s caring husband (the quiet dignity of Russ Marin) and the aging couple’s three visiting adult children (an affable Richard Lineback, a jittery-when-not-hysterical Judith Heinz and the simmering, visceral J. Downing, who also designed the dimensional, woodsy set). Meanwhile, a gathering storm brews within a reticent in-law (Kristina Coggins).

Few of these eddies and swirls are involving or focused.

At 1944 Riverside Dr., tonight and Saturday, 8 p.m., ends Sunday, 7 p.m. Tickets: $10-$15; (213) 665-3011.


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