‘Butter,’ generously flavored with salt


Light, slight and more touching than uproarious, Elizabeth Logun’s “Butter” is a low-impact British farce about coupling and decoupling that goes down as smoothly as, well, butter, in director Dave P. Moore’s new production.

Our first impressions are more or less right here: Aggie (Mary Portser, in a Thatcher-esque ‘do) is a buttoned-up Yorkshire matron who needs only the slightest provocation to loosen the buttons; husband Bill (Weston Blakesley) is a sour, doughy lump with, natch, a soft, pliant heart under his sardonic, long-suffering exterior; daughter Daphne (Sharon Bart) is a callow rebel with bright red streaks in her blond hair and a surly but sweet boyfriend, Dan (Michael Rubenstone), whose attention is divided roughly equally between radical animal liberation and the liberation of Daphne’s knickers.

Interlopers in this mildly simmering stew include Aggie’s sister Dottie (Lorrie Shearer), a recent refugee from a bad marriage, and Eric (Ray Xifo), a hobbit-sized special-delivery man with a priapic glint in his eye.


Sprinkle in a requisite amount of randy reckonings, bilious bickering, contrived confrontation and well-executed slapstick scrimmaging (watch for Dan’s aborted triple-axle kick over the divan), and you’ve got a reasonable facsimile of a fine BBC sitcom, agreeably stretched to 90 minutes.

Dan Jenkins has built a perfectly shabby-genteel set, and costumer Elizabeth Huffman orchestrates a subtle riot of unflattering mismatch. John Zalewski’s droll sound design rolls through various versions of “God Save the Queen,” starting with a booming choral rendition and concluding with the inevitable Sex Pistols cut, sending us out the door ironically smiling.

-- Rob Kendt

“Butter,” Ensemble Studio Theatre-LA and Chautauqua Theatre Alliance at [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 19. $20. (323) 461-3673 or Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.


A writer’s reality? It may ‘Be True’

The foundation of friendship is a fragile structure that can easily crumble under the tectonic shifts of youth.

Peter (Josh Weinstein) and Russell (Daniel Milder), the 30-ish protagonists of Jay Reiss’ “That May Well Be True” at the Hudson, underwent that life-altering temblor some 12 years ago. A drug addict and the dominant personality of the two, Russell ripped off his boyhood friend Peter for a petty amount, at which point Peter ended their friendship and moved away. Now a successful author, Peter has written a bestselling novel loosely based on Russell’s youthful experiences in South America. Recently sober, the seriously disgruntled Russell is suing Peter for plagiarism.

When a writer writes about writers, the effect can be bell-jar stuffy and self-referential. Reiss doesn’t entirely avoid that pitfall, but his amusing play is an incisive examination of the creative process that cuts close to the bone.


Ironically, Reiss’ take on creative “borrowing” is itself borrowed, at least to a degree, from Donald Margulies’ “Collected Stories,” another drama in which the mentor figure is bested by an opportunistic protege who recycles the mentor’s stories for fame and personal profit. Effectively ambiguous, Reiss’ piece keeps us wondering which character is the most authentically creative force. Is it the entropic Russell, mired in his own self-destructive tendencies, or the upwardly mobile Peter, who steps on the shoulders of his friend en route to success?

Former members of the same comedy troupe, Weinstein and Milder have their comic timing down in Greg Jackson’s spirited staging but sometimes neglect to plumb the deeper subtexts beneath their indubitably crisp portrayals. Also problematic is a red herring love triangle not necessary to the forward momentum of the play. Despite holes in her character’s motivations, Erin Quinn Purcell is delightful as Joy, a ditzy economist with New Age tendencies and a puzzling affinity for the exasperating Russell.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“That May Well Be True,” Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 19. $20 in advance; $25 at the door. (323) 960-7789. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.


Orpheus does ‘Dry Cleaning’

Since 1997, Tina Kronis and Richard Alger have been blurring lines between art and theater, dance and speech, music and cinema. In “Dry Cleaning,” their latest Theatre Movement Bazaar performance piece, this audacious duo raises its own stakes, refracting mediums into one imposing organism.

Created in collaboration with 24th Street Theatre, “Dry Cleaning’s” title alludes to the inaction that spies observe when they know they are under enemy scrutiny. This proves central to “Dry Cleaning,” which surveys the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through a wry espionage spyglass.

It opens on a gray void, broken by Kronis’ projected eyes, followed by the edifice of the Hotel Cyprus (videos designed by Peter Flaherty). A woman (Kronis) looks warily out. A man (Alger) lounges in an adjoining bedroom. Director-production designer Jeff Webster’s sound goes from trance music to traffic noise, and an enigmatic exchange of encrypted intrigue begins.


Alger’s narrative traces Orpheus’ trip to Hades to retrieve his dead wife with witty interdisciplinary cohesion, the references ranging from “Alphaville” to Abbott and Costello. Webster, Flaherty and cinematographer Michael Glover negotiate the aperture-minded set and Kronis’ choreography to create a holographic playing field. Ellen McCartney’s costumes take the disguise motif and run with it. Chris Akerlind’s lighting meets every challenge of perspective.

As performers, Kronis and Alger operate in effortless tandem, her Callas-like intensity precisely attuned to his coiled deadpan energy. Only the muted emotional tone softens the visceral impact. Still, “Dry Cleaning” is original, and its angular elegance is altogether arresting.

-- David C. Nichols

“Dry Cleaning,” 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Through Dec. 18, re-opens Jan. 7. Ends Jan. 22. $20. (213) 745-6516. Running time: 1 hour.


A ‘Merchant’ of high jinks

Probably the most problematic play in Shakespeare’s canon, “The Merchant of Venice” presents obvious difficulties to present-day interpreters, who are hard-pressed to render the text’s arguably anti-Semitic passages more palatable to modern audiences.

In his slapstick take at the MET, director Joseph Beck shovels on revisionism like he’s trying to put out a fire. Not that “Merchant” doesn’t contain some richly comic passages. But here, characters mug and double-take like burlesque comedians getting paid by the laugh. All that’s missing are a rubber chicken and a pie fight.

Early on, that’s an effective tack. But as the action progresses, the play’s gravity and pathos are buried under all the knee-jerk high jinks.


Beck sets the action in turn of the 20th century New York City, although exactly when is difficult to say. Some costumes seem right out of the flapper era, although the rinky-tink ragtime score suggests an earlier period.

Goofy innovations include the transformation of Shylock’s clownish servant Launcelot Gobbo into a Hattie McDaniel-esque maid, played by Chane’t Johnson to eye-rolling excess. Even secondary characters are burdened with comical “business” that lends their utterances unwarranted import. Every entrance is a gag, every exit a big deal. No one, it seems, can simply stand around and listen. Even the Gaoler, who should fade into the crowd during Shylock’s trial, mugs distractingly throughout this climactic scene.

The actors are game, and a few even make the silliness work. Many, however, are rank amateurs who struggle with the language to a nerve-wracking degree. Exceptions include Leesa Beck, a perky Portia despite her serious misdirection in the role. And David Q. Combs is a worthy Shylock whose authority is only occasionally rattled by the clownish shenanigans.

-- F.K.F.

“The Merchant of Venice,” MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, through Dec. 15. Resumes Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 22. $15. (323) 957-1152 or Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.