Watching several members of the Actors' Gang in Laura Fox's iconoclastic production of Guillaume Apollinaire's post-Artaudian satire, "The Breasts of Tiresias," is like seeing a kind of anniversary.
Nearly 10 years ago, the Gang staged a savage "Ubu the King"--Alfred Jarry's political fable, that, with "Tiresias," upended French and European theatrical conventions more than 80 years ago. Though none of the current Gang actors (the continually astonishing Shannon Holt, the elastic Brett Hinkley, the dry Michelle Chenelle and the sardonic Steve Porter) were in "Ubu," they have maintained the earlier work's disciplined, anarchic physicality, so perfectly wedded to plays bent on smashing authority.
We sit down at cafe-style chairs and tables inside Melrose's Zero One Gallery, whose walls are filled with gallery artists' visions of Tiresias/Therese's breasts. Free wine and beer are served out of a baby carriage--a surrealist touch, which also connects with the show revealed behind hand-drawn red velvet curtains.
War has depopulated the land, Therese (Holt) is tired of womanhood, turns into a man, and leaves her husband (an absurdly fine Biff Yeager) to the baby-making chores. It's a world where mailboxes talk and Lewis Carroll-like twins shoot each other and come back to life. This is not slice-of-life theater, as Porter's director has informed us in Apollinaire's manifesto/prologue.
Less a play than a series of connected sequences, "Tiresias" is still a sock in the jaw, and Fox (with designer Robert Fox, who has fashioned a stunning Cubist set of comic domesticity) has dressed it up in bright primary colors. If there is such a thing as friendly revolutionary theater, this is it.
"The Breasts of Tiresias," Zero One Gallery, 7025 Melrose Ave., Today-Sunday, 8 p.m.; Jan. 7-11, 8 p.m. $10; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
'Butterflies Are Free' a Showcase for Milano
Alyssa Milano, the star of the Court Theatre revival of Leonard Gershe's '60s comedy, "Butterflies Are Free," has already said it for us in a recent interview: This is a showcase, pure and simple. Milano's honesty is admirable; it doesn't change the fact that this dated look at flower power is only with us because of the star power behind the show, not the play.
"Butterflies" provides the showcase vehicle the 19-year-old Milano was looking for: 19-year-old Jill Tanner, the "butterfly" who flits at a moment's notice from boyfriend to boyfriend, treating them like so many blossoms to pollinate. She is the life force, pushing her way into the ordered apartment and universe of Don Baker (Matt Adler), a blind, mother-stifled young man. In Gershe's painfully schematic plot, Jill will teach Don some lessons in freedom, Don will teach Jill some lessons in responsibility, and Mom (a properly prim Joyce Blair) will learn to get out of the way.
It's a situation that's very sitcom--and close to the milieu Milano grew up in on "Who's the Boss?"--but the dialogue is seldom aching for a laugh, and the machinery churning out one-liners is barely audible.
Milano is more bouncy and exotic than Goldie Hawn's ditzy movie turn, while Adler eerily resembles Hawn's co-star, Edward Albert. In Tom Villano's staging, they share a rapport of contrasts, an unlikely bonding that attracts, even if you don't buy their happy ending for a second.
"Butterflies Are Free," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Jan. 26. $22-$25; (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.
'Everything's Coming Up' Jule Styne Songs
Composer Jule Styne turned 86 on New Year's Eve--if the United States, like Japan, had a pantheon of living national treasures, Styne would belong. The Styne catalogue is vast enough to fill a few evenings of tributes: The latest, written and arranged by Bob McDowell and directed by Kathleen Conry, is a quick evening's worth (90 minutes) that's best at hitting Styne's best work, though not as adept at hitting all the right notes.
"Everything's Coming Up Hits," at Center Stage in Woodland Hills, ends up being a lot more adoring than it is skillful, a labor of love that hasn't been thought out. Ensemble balance, for example, is never quite there: The women (singers Jean Kauffman, Wendy Perelman and Rende Rae Norman) consistently outshine the men (singers Marc Cardiff, Lawson Walker and Dean Stolber as well as piano accompanist David Holcenberg) in warmth, wit, vitality and presence.
With lesser singers than Kauffman, Perelman and the comically vivacious Norman, the men wouldn't come across as if they were being led everywhere. Conry seems aware of this, giving (especially) Norman the show-toppers such as "If," a brilliant find from the musical "Two on the Aisle."
McDowell avoids arranging the songs in a predictably chronological litany, while matching them so we can hear how one song fed into another. This has a freshness, such as the ensemble's tasty six-part harmonies, which come up when you least expect them. "Everything's Coming Up Hits" needs more surprises like this--and men to match the women.
"Everything's Coming Up Hits," Center Stage, 20929 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Indefinitely. $17.50; (818) 904-0444. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.