FALL PREVIEW : Our Critics' Guide to the Season : 'Angels' and Odysseus

The jewel in the crown of this fall theater season promises to be Tony Kushner's megaplay, "Angels in America," opening Nov. 1 at the Mark Taper Forum. Subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," it is a two-part meditation on politics, AIDS and the disintegration of America.

The swell of artistic success that met Part 1, "Millennium Approaches," when it was staged at London's Royal National Theatre in January virtually assured the excitement that heralds its return to Los Angeles, where an early draft had played the Taper, Too in 1990.

An incomplete version of Part 2, "Perestroika," had also been staged earlier at San Francisco's Eureka, but the complete "Perestroika" makes its debut at the Taper. This premiere of both segments is generating the same kind of anticipation as last spring's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Kentucky Cycle," and an uncommon level of interest even from out-of-towners.

"Millennium" was given a rousing endorsement on the Tony Awards broadcast in June by British actor and gay activist Ian McKellen, who will be another of the fall's major attractions. McKellen opens Sept. 15 at UCLA's Royce Hall in the title role of Shakespeare's "Richard III."

This Royal National Theatre touring production, staged as a modern militaristic drama by National artistic director Richard Eyre, has had a mixed reception in this country. The company has been criticized for being less than top drawer, but there has been nothing but strong praise for McKellen, who plays the hunchback king like something out of the Third Reich.

Post-apocalyptic is the word on Jose Rivera's "Marisol," opening Wednesday at La Jolla Playhouse. Rivera calls this latest work a comedy, but it's a dark and bitter one, replete with mythic guardian angels in army boots, homeless seers, psychotic assassins and innocents who get in the way and get ground up in the machinery of urban insurrection.

A different production of this show, written well before the L.A. riots but bearing prophetic connections to them, was the highlight of the Humana Festival in Louisville in March. "Marisol" will run in repertory with Elizabeth Egloff's fanciful "The Swan," a more lighhearted urban fantasy also seen at Louisville a few years ago and extensively rewritten.

As if to rescue us from surfeit on doomsday themes, Quebec's saucy, brash and surrealistic Cirque du Soleil returns to Santa Monica beach Oct. 8. The new show is "Saltimbanco," an Italian word for an itinerant street player that suits the origins and attitudes of this moonstruck one-ring Cirque. Animal-free and relying as much on a painterly approach for its magical mayhem as on the muscular exploits of the international company, this edition of the Cirque is reportedly more jolting than the last, filled with still more astral effects and new music from Rene Dupere.

Also notable:

Sept. 20-Oct. 25: "David's Mother," the West Coast premiere of a comedy of survival by Bob Randall ("Six Rms. Riv Vu"). It stars Ellen Greene and is directed by the Cleveland Playhouse's Josephine Abady. Pasadena Playhouse. (818) 356-PLAY.

Sept. 25-26: Marcel Marceau in his farewell tour, Sept. 25 at El Camino College's Marsee Auditorium, Torrance, (800) 832-ARTS; Sept. 26 at Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena (800) CONCERT.

Sept. 25-Oct. 4: "The Wanderings of Odysseus," a joint presentation of the Mark Taper Forum and the Getty Museum, specially commissioned from British historian Oliver Taplin, will be staged at the Museum, Malibu, (213) 972-7392.

Sept. 25-Oct.25: "Let's Play Two," Anthony Clarvoe's comedy about the singles scene at South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-4033.

Sept. 30-Oct. 31: "Long Day's Journey Into Night" at the Gem Theatre in Garden Grove. Jules Aaron directs Salome Jens as Mary Tyrone and Mitch Ryan as James Tyrone; $18-$22, (714) 636-7213.

Oct. 1-4: "Out in Front," a festival of multi-ethnic performance takes over the Mark Taper Forum for four diverse evenings that will feature some new and some familiar faces--among them, Culture Clash, Keith Antar Mason's Hittite Empire, Amy Hill, the MADRES, Rose Portillo and Roger Guenveur Smith. (213) 972-7392 or (213) 365-3500.

Oct. 1-18: "State Fair," a new stage version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's film classic, Long Beach Civic Light Opera at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, (310) 432-7926, (714) 826-9371.

Oct. 7-Nov. 22: "The World Goes Round," two hours of song and dance from the collaboration of John Kander and Fred Ebb at Henry Fonda Theatre, Hollywood; $28-$42, (213) 480-3232.

Oct. 8-9: "Mayhem: The Invasion" (Guest Quarters Suite Hotel, 4th St., Santa Monica, (213) 660-8687). Tim ("Bob Roberts") Robbins directs and headlines in a staged reading of his new play. 8 p.m.

Oct. 15-Dec. 27: John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation" at the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood, (213) 972-7372.

Oct. 19-20: The New Vic Theatre of London in "The Canterbury Tales" at Pepperdine University's Smothers Theatre, Malibu, (310) 456-4522.

Oct. 22: The one-ring "Pickle Family Circus" at Pepperdine's Smothers Theatre in Malibu, (310) 456-4522.

Oct. 23-Nov. 22: "Our Country's Good," Timberlake Wertenbaker's drama about Australian convicts who find freedom making theater. South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-4033.

Oct. 25: Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" at La Jolla Playhouse, (619) 534-3960, TDD/voice (619) 534-0351.

Oct: 27-Nov. 22: "Annie Warbucks," the reworked sequel to "Annie," comes to the Pantages, (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000.

Nov. 6-Dec.6: "Odd Jobs," West Coast premiere of a play by Frank Moher tracking the interdependence among an elderly woman, an unemployed young man and his wife. South Coast Repertory, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-4033.

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