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A Woman’s Improv Troupe, Gay Lovers and a Surrealistic Look at War’s Effect on People

<i> Arkatov writes regularly about theater for Calendar</i>

“It’s not for or against war,” said Frederique Michel, director of Howard Barker’s “The Possibilities,” which has its American premiere this weekend at the Waterfront Stage in Santa Monica. “It shows what war does to human beings.”

Staged in surrealistic fashion, accompanied by a slide show and original score, the piece is composed of 10 vignettes focusing on moral choice--in a variety of settings.

“There are a lot of episodes in the Middle East, though not specific countries,” said the French-born Michel. Some of the implications, however, are clear: Israel in biblical times, a Turkish country in the Middle Ages, a post-World War II Eastern European setting. “It’s not for sensitive persons,” Michel said. “If you don’t want to see terrorism, blood, crime, violence, it’s not for you. For people who are not afraid to face the reality of life--well, that’s what it is.”

She and Waterfront co-artistic director Charles Duncombe chose the piece in January after the outbreak of war over Kuwait: “It was a rare opportunity where people were going to take these issues seriously--moral choices, moral ambiguities. It’s alive enough now that people are still willing to think about it, deal with it. In times of peace, people aren’t as willing.”

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In spite of the piece’s dark tone, Michel said, “the title tells you there is hope . The world does not have to be this way. People make their own choices.”

“The Possibilities” plays at 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays at the Waterfront Stage, 250 Santa Monica Pier, indefinitely. Tickets: $6.25 to $12.50. (213) 393-6672.

Judy Garland, Oscar Wilde, Rock Hudson and Auntie Mame join the cast of characters--real and make-believe--in Alan Pulner’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” opening Friday at Highways in Santa Monica.

The idea began a year ago when Pulner, a member of the Coalition for Freedom of Expression, found himself in a TV debate with a young woman from the Coalition for Traditional Values. “I got to understand a lot about fundamentalist thinking, and I wanted to present a concrete argument against that--how fundamentalism attacks gay rights and freedom of expression,” said Pulner, whose performance works have been presented locally at Beyond Baroque, The Olio and The Llasa Club.

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In the new six-actor piece, characters weave in and out of time to help embattled lovers Alex (Pulner) and Billy work out their personal and societal problems.

“Using Auntie Mame gives me a license to be colorful and flamboyant,” Pulner said. “Rock Hudson is the butch side that denies that, has to operate undercover.” Relying on research focusing on the place of gays and lesbians in history “gives us a larger scope of who we are, who we might be. We still have so much to fight about. But it’s a very optimistic piece--and it has a happy ending.”

“Dream a Little Dream of Me” plays at 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 5-6 and 12-13 at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St. in Santa Monica. Tickets: $10. (213) 453-1755.

It’s catch-up time with The Wims, as the local all-woman improv troupe returns with a new show, opening Friday at The Church in Ocean Park.

“We’re going to jam on the ‘new world disorder’ and how it affects us on a personal, local, national, global level,” Susan Krebs, one of the troupe’s seven members, said. “Out of that confusion, we felt it was time to come back out, speak for ourselves. All of us have been doing our personal work, but The Wims allows us to speak collectively to these truths: talk about them, play with audiences in ways we can’t normally do. And after 10 years together, it’s a very simpatico environment. The only difference now is that we’re older--in our ‘middle’ years.”

The Wims reunion--other members are Dale Eunson, Elinor Graham, Betty Macias, Julie Payne, Betty Thomas and Stephanie Waxman--was prompted by Thomas, who wanted to shoot a documentary “and show us in rehearsal and performance, at home, and how we create,” Krebs said. Often taking off on audience suggestions, The Wims slide in and out of characters, ruminating on issues of the day. “Even though the war is over, we’re still reeling from it, trying to explore our feelings, what’s being said and not said,” the actress noted. “We’re also working more with percussion and rhythm instruments--and a lot of myth.”

“The Wims” play at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 5-6 , 12-13 and 19-20 at The Church in Ocean Park, 235 Hill St. in Santa Monica. Tickets: $5. (213) 399-1631 .


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