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A search for gay community

“At the dawn of Stonewall,” begins “Buddies” at the Celebration Theatre. The nostalgia grows both celebratory and elegiac. Adaptor-director Scott Edward Smith tackles Ethan Mordden’s acclaimed short-story cycle about gay Manhattan comrades at the close of the 20th century with rampant high spirits.

Less plot-driven than Armistead Maupin’s landmark “Tales of the City” books, the “Buddies” stories, which began as Christopher Street magazine essays in the ‘80s, turn on accrued details of gay behavior. With trademark acerbity, Mordden addresses the search for supportive community and oral history by men loving men in an uncaring world.

Mordden’s proxy, writer Bud (the excellent Hutchins Foster), guides the narrative, sparring with best friend Dennis Savage (a nuanced Mark Davis) in their apartments and on Fire Island.

Their contemporaries include heartthrob Carlo (the potent Jon Woodward), eager Little Kiwi (David Clark Smith, a hoot), “changeling” Cosgrove (Ronnie Alvarez), antsy Ray (Daniel Kirsner) and late-blooming Uncle Dave (T.L. Kolman).

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Smith keeps things moving adroitly, aided by Timothy Swiss’ rich lighting and Kurt Boetcher’s sliding set, though the lack of a costumer shows. Foster, who assumed the role on short notice, makes Bud’s outre erudition human and moving, and his colleagues form a witty, touching ensemble.

Literary values and dramatic heft don’t always overlap. The episodic Act 1 delays any emotional pull until Act 2 (though it certainly lands then). The shifting eras are erratically drawn, some inclusions feel almost arbitrary, and the absence of transvestite Miss Faye is a missed opportunity.

Still, though the source material demands fuller scope, “Buddies” is a worthy outing, and not just for its obvious demographic.

-- David C. Nichols

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“Buddies,” Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 18. Mature audiences. $20-$25. (323) 957-1884. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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Refreshing whimsy short of epiphany

A collaboration of two local theater groups, the Rogue Artists Ensemble and the Son of Semele Ensemble, the multimedia performance piece “HYPERBOLE: epiphany” is a bit more memorable for its effort than its effectiveness. Still, it makes a pleasing impression, in part because the artists involved wear their ambitious aesthetic aspirations with such hopeful exuberance.

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The Rogue Artists Ensemble, made up of designers and technical folk, sprang from theater graduates of UC Irvine in 2001, and this is its third piece under the umbrella title “HYPERBOLE.” The “Rogues” call their style “hyper-theatre” and compare it to music videos, which tells you quite a bit about their capsule approach to theatrical storytelling. The 18 vignettes are self-contained and yet of a piece -- each directed by one of a “core” group, including Son of Semele members and led by head Rogue Sean T. Cawelti. Each is set to, and inspired by, the songs of local musicians; the results employ a blend of masks, puppetry of all sorts, computer animation and movement.

Performed at the Son of Semele Ensemble’s home base in Silver Lake, the show delivers a refreshing dose of whimsy. In one vignette, a marionette tries to teach a human-size figure some dance steps; in another highly relatable sequence, a hand-puppet sandwich breaks into song and drives its creator to diet and exercise.

The puppetry and music entice, yet the vignettes don’t utterly delight. But nor do they, with a couple of late exceptions, fall flat. If there’s a single Achilles’ heel that limits the execution, it’s the human movement. The staging and performances are just not physically exact enough to provide the expressiveness required when faces are masked.

But even if the show doesn’t provide any genuine epiphanies, there’s a lot of of creative flair here, and a plethora of promise.

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-- Steven Oxman

“HYPERBOLE: epiphany,” Son of Semele Ensemble Theatre, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Silver Lake. 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Ends Sept. 3. $15. (213) 351-3507 or www.sonofsemele.org. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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‘Valiant’ crosses Cosby with Albee

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In “Young Valiant,” an African American father and Latina mother learn that their 12-year-old son has reached puberty, ferociously. Their contrasting responses form the gist of Oliver Mayer’s uneasy dramedy at Casa 0101 in Los Angeles.

Exploring interracial marriage and its effect upon progeny has valid dramatic potential, which makes “Young Valiant” doubly frustrating. Mayer, best known for his “Blade to the Heat” at the Taper in 1995, has a highly stylized manner, as his character designations -- Dad, Mom, Boy -- make clear. At times, such as Mom’s reverie on her old neighborhood, or Dad’s reaction to Boy’s need to fight, the compressed text verges on domestic poetry.

However, a sitcom tone persists, dubious for a play that deals with semi-incestuous feelings and cultural distinctions. The exposition hints at generational and prefamilial conflicts that aren’t developed. This Bill Cosby-meets-Edward Albee approach blurs those flashes of truth unearthed by the actors, who, under Jack Rowe’s direction, are indeed valiant.

Hansford Prince and Marlene Forte are emotionally resourceful as the parents. Chastity Dotson makes a credible hormonal boy (though casting a grown actress in this role is curious).

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The production’s technical components are sketchy, with designer Mia Torres’ split-level setting just passable, her lighting rudimentary. At the reviewed performance, Prince had to break his pensive final gaze with a sudden smile to indicate the play was over.

Supporters of the co-producing Los Angeles Theater Project may readily rally round “Young Valiant,” but a commercial future for it would require serious rewriting.

-- D.C.N.

“Young Valiant,” Casa 0101, 2009 E. 1st St., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 18. Mature audiences. $15. (323) 263-7684 or www.latheaterproject.org. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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‘Psalms’ is heavy on the gothic

If “Psalms of a Questionable Nature” were a piece of music, it would have to be played on an organ. That’s the only instrument that could deliver the kind of gothic tones required by a story that involves a creepy basement, biological toxins and two stepsisters who both do masochistic damage to themselves with a tub of caustic cleanser.

Written by Chicago-based Marisa Wegrzyn and produced by the theater company Lucid by Proxy, this is a naturalistic play that piles on the dark and eerie with a bit too much abandon.

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The two stepsisters, Greta (Sasha Harris) and the younger Moo (Shannon Nelson) don’t meet until after their parents’ death in a car crash. Greta, a former local news anchor with some serious psychological trauma to recount, would like to sell the house she has inherited and get a fresh start. Moo, who’s an even more damaged character, has disturbing things to share about the activities of her father and Greta’s Bible-thumping mum.

The action unfolds in the home’s basement, depicted with just the right unobtrusiveness by designer Chris Hansen. Unfortunately, while the play’s content is skin-crawling -- truly unpleasant memories, a vial of smallpox virus and plenty of death -- none of it is particularly convincing, despite the efforts of director Trevor Biship and his cast to patch over the contrivances with all the realism they can muster.

The play never quite gets its priorities straight: It’s hard to care about a character’s feelings when you’re still wondering what happened to those biological weapons in the mail.

-- S.O.

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“Psalms of a Questionable Nature,” Paul E. Richards Theater Place, 2902 Rowena Ave., Silver Lake. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays (no performance Sept. 4). Ends Sept. 11. $15. (800) 838-3006 or www.lucidbyproxy.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.


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