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A distant mom is ‘Waving Goodbye’

William Faulkner once commented, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”

Amanda Blue (Michelle Duffy), a character in Jamie Pachino’s “Waving Goodbye,” a Syzygy Theatre Group production at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, is apparently of the same mind. A celebrated sculptor, Amanda abandoned her husband, Jonathan Blue (Scott Cummins), and their young daughter Lily (affectingly sincere Heather Fox) several years ago to pursue her career. In good Faulknerian fashion, Amanda blithely robbed her family of her own presence. But when Jonathan, a professional mountain climber, is killed on Everest, Amanda must confront the bitterly resentful daughter she left behind.

Lily is also a driven artist, but unlike her mother, her close relationships with her boyfriend, Boggy (wonderfully wry Damien Midkiff), and acerbic gallery owner Perry (Hope Shapiro) keep Lily centered in a more humane aesthetic.

Director Martin Bedoian and his nimble cast traverse the treacherous passages in Pachino’s occasionally overwrought drama by dint of sheer truthfulness. Pachino takes a big risk in making the character of Amanda so blatantly unsympathetic. A brilliant artist, Amanda is a paltry human being -- an issue that Pachino addresses, quite cleverly, in the second act. But despite Duffy’s efforts to flesh out her character, Amanda is so strikingly petty, at least initially, that her eventual epiphany might well trigger a “so what?” response from the audience.

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Still, though flawed, Pachino’s complex and challenging play addresses subtle issues of personal obligation and artistic entitlement. Also a grand and teetering edifice, Sibyl Wickersheimer’s purposely unfinished set, all raw wood and precarious ladders, is a cunning visual metaphor for the Blues’ emotional state. Whether this family is in ruins or under construction, however, remains to be seen.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Waving Goodbye,” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 24. $20. (323) 254-9328. www.syzygytheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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‘Mrs. Jones’ has a wifely nightmare

The best cult films are happy accidents rather than prefab “niche” products. But onstage there’s a kind of formula for kitschy, fabulous, late-night-style fun -- genre parody, suburban revolt, beehive wigs.

D’Arcy Drollinger’s musical “The Possession of Mrs. Jones” delivers the goods with Day-Glo pertness, suggesting an unholy shotgun wedding of “Bewitched” and “Ruthless!,” with a few daubs of “Hairspray.”

The titular heroine (Corinne Dekker) is a too-perfect 1950s housewife whose new washing machine has a few design flaws. For one, it’s manufactured by an evil company intent on buying up this world and the next. Oh, and it contains God (David A. Kozen) and Satan (Keith Baker), who tumble out in evening wear to do a song-and-dance plea for Mrs. Jones’ help.

It’s a rocky start, but things kick into gear when God and Satan end up possessing -- replacing, actually -- the bodies of the Jones kids and discovering how the other half lives.

When we glimpse Kozen as a hairy-chested, frazzle-wigged teen-girl delinquent -- a hilariously ugly image amid the pristine period designs of Mark Worthington’s set, Max Pierson’s tasty lighting and Shauna Leone’s costumes -- we know we’re in good hands.

No housewife-unhinged narrative would be complete without an uncomprehending husband (Joey Sorge) and smallminded neighbors: an impish mayor (Jay Brian Winnick), his klepto harridan of a wife (Kimberly Lewis), a dizzy Tupperware saleswoman (Karen Gordon) and a frumpy Avon lady (the winning Winnick).

Drollinger’s pleasantly poppy music is perkily rendered by Ted Hamer’s trio and the cast, and Tootsie Olan’s dances use the small space well. So does director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who keeps the laughs on track and the irony as thick as Spam. In short, “Possession” serves up quite a spread.

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-- Rob Kendt

“The Possession of Mrs. Jones,” Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 17. $25. (323) 960-7612. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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‘Mommie,’ is that a man in a dress?

Lethally shoulder-padded Joan Crawford tells lover Greg, “You know what’s missing from my life?” Greg fires back: “Estrogen?” So runs the high camp course of “Mommie Queerest” at the Hudson Backstage Theatre. One needn’t know from “Mommie Dearest,” whether Christina Crawford’s memoirs or the 1981 Faye Dunaway film, to enjoy Jamie Morris’ hysterical storefront frolic.

First seen in 2004 at Ultra Suede, “Mommie Queerest” is a barroom sketch pumped to Bruce Vilanch proportions. Adaptor-performer Morris deconstructs the screenplay’s most notorious bits while exploiting the notion that Hollywood’s most famous hater of wire hangers was actually a man.

This flask-clutching, duct-taped conceit is one key factor in “Mommie’s” wicked drag rodeo. Another is the resourceful staging, which revels in set designer Michael Lee Scott’s ever-changing panels, the uncredited props and costumes and, especially, audience response.

Although Morris eerily resembles his target, the mugs, vocal attack and death-defying pauses suggest Rosalind Russell and Robert Mitchum as much as Crawford and/or Dunaway. Given this, Morris delivers the goods, as does Brooks Braselman’s kidney-threatening Christina, who blends Vivian Vance and a Central California Women’s Facility inmate. Brian Rooney gives supporting roles from lovelorn secretary Carol Ann to adenoidal Mother Superior a delicious deadpan simper.

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At the reviewed performance, director Christopher Kenney went in for Bradley Griffith as Greg, leather-harnessed Christopher, et al., which may explain some awkward transitions and scattershot timing.

The absence of Joan’s subbing for Christina on “The Secret Storm” is a missed opportunity, and Kevin Gardiner’s adroit film-credits prologue doesn’t exactly jive with the new venue.

Regardless, “Mommie Queerest” will fracture Crawford cultists, and true believers should sit up front.

-- David C. Nichols

“Mommie Queerest,” Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 10. $25. (323) 960-7744 or www.plays411.com. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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‘Medal of Honor’: a heavy burden

Trauma is not drama, as Tom Cole’s brief 1976 case study “Medal of Honor Rag” illustrates all too well.

This rote confrontation between a nebbishy therapist (Paul Schackman) and a troubled Vietnam vet (Heavy D) strikes some eerie wartime resonances and rises to a few moments of genuine emotion -- but where’s the play?

Director Delroy Lindo, while nurturing a strong, contrasting pair of performances, hasn’t found it.

Sgt. Dale “D.J.” Jackson is one of those less-counted casualties of war, the soldiers who come home too rocked by horror to adjust to civilian life.

Jackson’s post-traumatic stress is exacerbated by home-front ambivalence about the conflict: Pro-war folks blame him for the war’s stagnation, while “kids with long hair” call him “baby killer.”

Worse yet, Jackson’s Medal of Honor came for “conspicuous gallantry” in battle -- a grand-sounding phrase for what he remembers as a mad killing spree of Viet Cong who had besieged his tank.

Based on real-life veteran Dwight H. Johnson, Jackson is a compellingly torn figure, and the hulking, droop-eyed D plays him with a mixture of resignation and unreachable despair.

In the thanklessly expository role of the doctor, Schackman is unerringly precise and unsentimental.

But the conversation that unfolds on Nadia Morgan’s realistic holding-cell set has a flat emotional arc, almost no leavening humor and few vivifying details. A soldier physically intact but internally destroyed might be a provocative metaphor for a nation at war, but “Medal of Honor Rag” doesn’t have that kind of weight.

-- R.K.

“Medal of Honor Rag,” Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 17. $30. (323) 650-3100. Running time: 1 hour.


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