Alternate visions of 'Don Quixote'

"Being dead, Don Quixote could no longer speak. Being born into and part of a male world, she had no speech of her own. All she could do was read male texts, which weren't hers."

That epigraph cements the point of "Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream" at City Garage. It cannot convey the emblematic perversity with which director-adaptor Frederique Michel, production designer Charles A. Duncombe and an amazing cast realize the 1986 novel by Kathy Acker.

The late Acker's scabrous post-feminist crib from Cervantes is a profanity-drenched phylum unto itself. Multiple influences, William S. Burroughs being only the most obvious, orbit about "Don Quxote's" title abortion-seeker (Sophia Marzocchi). Acker pulls this bipolar surrogate into a picaresque, politically questioning head trip, analogous to the paintings of Sherrie Levine.

Under Michel's assured direction, the players show seamless commitment. Marzocchi is a lithe, enigmatic discovery with the arcane beauty of a Roman deity. The riveting Justin Davanzo casually enters his Hobbesian debate with David E. Frank's tickling Nixon wearing only periwig and boots. Stephen Pocock becomes an imposing Angel of Death by simply standing before the wings adorning one of the set's trees. Juni Bucher and Christie D'Amore inhabit their pansexual archetypes with gusto, and Maureen Byrnes deftly passes off the polymorphous narrative viewpoint.

Duncombe's evocative decor suggests Levine having at Joseph Cornell's id, while Josephine Poinsot's costumes trace Jean Paul Gaultier details onto Jean Cocteau doodles. True, Michel's adaptation is faithful to a fault. Acker's cascading polemic and graphic poetry risks static repetition in the flesh. Yet, though "Don Quixote" needs either further distillation or an intermission, audiences up for provocative theater of ideas will find its adults-only dreamscape hypnotic.

-- David C. Nichols

"Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream," City Garage, 1340 1/2 4th St. (alley), Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 p.m. Sundays. No performances July 14-31. Ends Aug. 28. Adult audiences. $20. (310) 319-9939. Running time: 2 hours.

*

Grace illuminates 'Midnight Weary'

"Sunshine for a Midnight Weary," presented by EMBODI Entertainment at the Inglewood Playhouse, is a fine opportunity to see a dedicated acting ensemble ply its craft. Director Angela Matemotja and her fellow performers infuse November Dawn's fiercely poetical drama with affecting grace and candor.

Largely made up of loosely linked monologues, the play looks at the travails women of color confront in their daily lives. Their yearning for light and meaning is a blatant connecting theme (a bit ironic, considering that the gloomy lighting keeps the actresses in near-darkness for much of the time).

The subject matter is freewheeling, to say the least. Among the characters, we meet a lesbian confronting the raw hatred of the "hetero world," a junkie trapped in the downward spiral of her addiction, and several abused women whose anger has reached critical mass.

There's rage aplenty to be found in this desultory mix, but there's also humor, pathos and robust sensuality.

Unfortunately, Dawn's writing is occasionally overwrought and hackneyed. However, at its best, it takes on the raw urgency of a Beat era poet, with the same sweeping, stream-of-consciousness tone.

Besides Matemotja, the consistently high-quality cast includes Tasia Sherel, Brandy Maddox, Tammi Rashonda, Renee McSwain, Erica Pitts, Shannon Shepherd, Brianna Brown, and Baadja. The play's emphasis on female bonding is appropriate. Indeed, these performers are so closely bonded in style and commitment, they often seem to function as one organism.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Sunshine for a Midnight Weary," Inglewood Playhouse, 714 Warren Lane (in Edward Vincent Park), Inglewood. 8 p.m. Thursdays only. Ends July 7. (818) 754-2559. www.embodi.org. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

*

Ambition agitates 'Navy Pier' waters

Disillusioned writer Martin stands at Chicago's Navy Pier. He has returned from San Francisco to the college town where years ago, unsure of his gifts, Martin jockeyed with competitive pal Kurt. Then artist Iris and a New Yorker magazine contest entered the equation. Today, Kurt and Iris are part of the Manhattan literati, while Martin struggles for renewal with Bay Area historian-turned-barmaid Liv. At least, he has until today.

These four circle in a multi-tiered route to "Navy Pier," presented by VS. Theatre Company at the Victory Theatre Center. This West Coast premiere of John Corwin's study of romance, creativity and friendship run roughshod by ambition holds its ground past distinctly small-scaled, novella-styled stakes.

Certainly, "Navy Pier," which Chicago-based playwright Corwin's Wax Lips Theatre Company co-produced in 2000 at the Soho Theatre in London, is engaging.

Corwin has fun fragmenting timelines and building character details, an aspect benefiting here from director Howard Fine and his fine-tuned players, who navigate John G. Williams' carpeted abstract set with redoubtable flair.

Johnny Clark's Martin rides the turmoil beneath his hangdog manner to affecting lengths. Joseph Sanfelippo expertly keeps Kurt's appeal evident, his motives obscured. Jessica Collins invests Iris with rising emotional power, and Kimberly-Rose Wolter locates Liv's reactions from within throughout.

Fine firmly steers his arena staging, with capable help from designers Erin M. Hearne (lighting) and Ron Klier (sound). The approach almost disguises Corwin's limited narrative scope, less dramatic than literary, Jack Kerouac on Philip Roth's dime. This doesn't sink "Navy Pier," but it lands more from strength of execution than from depth of content.

-- D.C.N.

"Navy Pier," Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Dark July 3. Ends July 10. $20. (818) 841-5422. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

*

'Rita' wants more from wifely life

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Daisy Foote, daughter of playwright Horton Foote, displays the same richly humanistic concerns as her venerable father in "When They Speak of Rita," at Pacific Resident Theatre. Regrettably, Foote's drama is so modestly scaled that it sometimes threatens to disappear.

As in much of her father's work, Foote's play concerns the plight of a besieged small-town family forced to cope with extraordinary circumstances. However, the setting -- rural New Hampshire -- is about as far from the familiar Foote territory of central Texas as one can get and still be on the same continent.

In this case, the crisis is not so much fateful as volitional. Rita Potter (Joanna Daniels) is a frustrated stay-at-home wife whose fondest dreams have been lost in workaday tedium. Sadly taken for granted by her blue-collar husband, Asa (Dan Verdin), and their strong-willed teenage son Warren (Scott Jackson), Rita finds a sympathetic ear in Jimmy (Michael Redfield), Warren's backward pal. Dismissed as little more than a workhorse, Rita is about to kick over the traces in a big way.

Although uncharacteristic, Rita's rebellion is nonetheless predictable, as is another plot point concerning Warren's high school sweetheart Jeannie (Rachel Avery). Fortunately, director Karen Landry serves up this unassuming, slice-of-life material with absolute truthfulness. Self-effacing and unpretentious, the actors give the kind of no-frills, straightforward performances that should be studied in master acting classes.

Among the superb technical elements, Kathi O'Donohue's inconspicuous lighting and Zack Bunker's calculatedly tacky set stand out. Dialect coach Lesley Fera deserves high praise for the cast's perfectly sustained New Hampshire accents.

-- F.K.F.

"When They Speak of Rita," Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. No performances June 30-July 3. Ends Aug. 7. $20 to $25. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours.

*

Refracted views of 'A New War'

The egg-on-face awkwardness of newscasters with nothing to say is captured incisively in Gip Hoppe's "A New War," in which a pair of smilingly earnest anchors (Emily Kerns, David Shick) must report at length on a shadowy conflict against "an unnamed enemy in an undisclosed location," illustrating this non-story with a blank screen that might be the night sky over the "hot zone."

But dead TV airtime is about the only target this flimsy would-be satire of the new American triumphalism takes down, try as it might to skewer such soft targets as insipid celebrities, heartland wing nuts and creepily arrogant political figures. You can get an idea of Hoppe's rapier wit from his character names: Defense Secretary Mike Halliburton, Atty. Gen. John Bechtel, country star Billy Bob Braggart. Stop, you're killing me.

The cast gives strictly sketch-comedy performances under director Angela Pupello, with Simon Sorrells standing out in a variety of guises, from a squinting, malapropism-spouting president ("our precocious freedoms") to a crusty Defense secretary ("our young weapons are performing bravely").

Melinda Lively makes the most of her moments in several small, pert roles, while Joe Nieves makes a little too much of his.

There's not a lot to laugh about in Hoppe's near-future scenario: Gas prices have plummeted in the wake of multiple Bush-led wars, remote-controlled weapons make bloody house calls, the Constitution is summarily suspended. OK, the notion of a "Fatherland Security" chief (Sorrells again) giving dispatches in beret and trench coat is a lot more fun than Michael Chertoff. And the wigs throughout are hilariously bad. But "Stuff Happens" it ain't.

-- Rob Kendt

"A New War," Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Ends Aug. 3. $15. (323) 860-8868. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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