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Haunting Portrait of Evil in Strindberg’s ‘Pelican’

It was said that the pelican gave her own blood for her young. It’s no more true for the bird than for the self-deceived mother Elise in August Strindberg’s fascinating chamber play “The Pelican,” surfacing in a rare production at 2nd Stage. Elise proclaims concern for her son and daughter while skimming the cream from their milk for herself, much as governments and corporations do.

Actress Salome Jens understands the rapidly shifting moods and colors of Elise’s self-made trauma and plays her as the haunting theme in a concerto of the damned. The play is like a piece of music and, directed by Jules Aaron in that manner, played out on a fantasist setting by John Iacovelli--the family’s home seen through a distorting mirror, as the characters are through Strindberg’s own dark glass.

Daughter Gerda (a not yet quite focused Sabina Weber) is late in discovering the true evil of Elise, as is Gerda’s husband (coolly avaricious Steven Memell), who is also his mother-in-law’s lover. But fiery alcoholic son Frederik (strong, volatile Chris Jordan) does not have this blind spot, nor does the family’s longtime maid (irascible Danna Hansen). It’s a nightmare they eventually have to share with the others as they all self-destruct in this imaginative staging of Strindberg’s tone poem on how little evils beget large ones.

At 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; ends Sept. 30. $12; (213) 466-1767.

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Lightweight Routine in ‘Somersaults’

If there were such a thing as dinner theater in Russia, Alexsei Arbuzov’s “Do You Turn Somersaults?” would probably be a regular menu item. Arbuzov’s work is intimate, human and frequently funny. But definitely lightweight. Under Alison Jane Frazer’s buoyant direction, Theatre 40’s charming production couldn’t have a better cast.

William Denis is the self-contained, almost abrasive civil servant Rodion, medical director of a sanatorium in Riga. His problem is Lidya, a cashier from a Moscow circus who wants to be “restored.” As his relationship with Lidya grows, so does his performance, shaded with just enough self-doubt and amused acquiescence to Lidya’s overriding charm.

Denis is a fine foil for June Claman’s impeccable, gossamer Lidya. Hers is a stylish performance, from the cobweb delicacy of her high comedy to the unadorned pathos of her description of entertaining WWII troops near Berlin, unaware that her 18-year-old son has been killed nearby.

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Lightweight as the play is, the performances give it some weight and not a little depth.

At 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills; Mondays through Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; ends Sept. 19. $10; (213) 466-1767.

Getting to the Root of Charles Bukowski

“Short Hairs & Long Shots,” an evening of Charles Bukowski’s prose and poetry, conceived by Robert Villanueva, is not only for fans of the underground poet and writer. It’s also a trip for those of us who think Bukowski usually reads like second-rate Saroyan with a hangover.

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He still does, but director Joanne Gordon turns LATC’s Theatre 4 into the kind of scroungy pad Bukowski probably lived in during his less affluent days, an environment that lets the images ricochet off the consciousness of the audience as it tries to keep out of the way of the performers.

Most of the pieces reflect Bukowski’s fascination with his own body and libido. The sizable company has a ball with this fascination, in performances of dark color and surprising humor.

The production is an R-rated theme-park ride for anyone who wants to wallow along with Bukowski in the burnt umber shadows of his perception. And for newcomers to Bukowski, it’s a rewarding introduction by a group that gives him more vitality than he has on the printed page.

At 514 S. Spring St.; Thursdays through Saturdays (also Sept. 16), 8 p.m.; ends Sept. 22. $15; (213) 466-1767.

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A Skin-Deep Tribute to Dorothy Parker

A sparkling wit, short-story writer and essayist, Dorothy Parker was also an alcoholic, drug-using sexaholic. But most of Parker is skimmed over in Laurel Ollstein’s “Laughter, Hope and a Sock in the Eye” at Burbage Theatre Ensemble. Even her two marriages to Alan Campbell are seen through rose-colored glasses, not as the tortured, nightmarish traps they were for the desperate Parker.

Ollstein, directed with froth and good cheer by Michael Keegan, has written a Parker tribute that looks no deeper than her most famous wisecracks, and its cheerful approach would be acceptable to the most bluestocking women’s club. Parker herself would glower into her martini and crack wise at the evening’s thinness.

At 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles; Sundays, 4 p.m.; ends Sept. 30. $12; (213) 478-0897.

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Two Uneventful Trips at Heliotrope

Neither of these two trips at the Heliotrope Theater are “Fantastic Voyages.”

David Ellzey’s “Waystation Earth” is totally earthbound, from its kid fantasizing winning at basketball to its audience participation jazz combo. Ellzey is a charming and effective mime, whose most telling pieces are a very clever bit about a baby going through the pangs of birth and a poetic visualization of the evolution of man. Nothing new here, and Ellzey’s work is predominantly aimed at a younger audience.

Lisa Rafel’s “It Began in Kathmandu” is a kvetching travelogue about her “life-changing trip” to Nepal. From her stunned horror, Rafel probably thought Nepal was no more primitive than Beverly Hills south of Wilshire. She’s fixated with the excrement in the streets, in the halls, by the wells, on the mountainside--and by the public manner of her own contribution to the waste. The five minutes she devotes to her “life-changing” meeting with a female guru are unconvincing and simplistic. As the sun sets, we bid fond farewell to excrement-filled Nepal.

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At 660 N. Heliotrope Ave.; Tuesdays, 8 p.m.; ends Sept. 11. $10; (213) 660-8587.

Good Intentions at Haunted Studio

Two one-acts by young Latino playwrights at the Haunted Studio Theater have good intentions, but only one of them even makes it halfway.

The interminably long “The Taco of Death,” by Bob Herrera, has a sophomorically comic plot concerning the kingpin of Taco Row in East L.A., who may be killing off his competitors. Herrera’s raunchy humor is juvenile and his dialogue by the numbers.

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David Nava Monreal’s “Cellmates,” about a prisoner with a visitor who knows too much about his past, is little more than a cliche revisited, but fares much better than “Taco;” Monreal has a strong sense of character and his dialogue gives off sparks.

Director William Zamora can’t do much to help “Taco,” and could have given a little more subtlety to the vivid excitement of “Cellmates,” though Larry Acosta and David Laporte give strong performances in the latter.

At 6419 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; ends Sept. 29. $10; (818) 985-1996.


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