‘Beyond!’ the bounds of science


There’s so much that’s right with “It Came From Beyond!,” the world-premiere musical spoof of 1950s sci-fi movies, that it seems curmudgeonly to point out the production’s shortcomings. After all, the show features Cornell Christianson’s lighthearted book, Stephen M. Schwartz and Norman Thalheimer’s mostly engaging music and lyrics, and a terrific cast. Add to that Coy Middlebrook’s spirited direction, Heather Marie Marsden’s aerobic choreography and Tom Buderwitz’s truly remarkable set, and you have a very attractive package.

Yet a combination of factors keeps this entertaining but rough-edged production from reaching its potential, at least for now.

Set in a high school science lab in the 1950s, the action centers around Harold (Kevin Earley), a geeky high school student who escapes into a wild, comic-book-inspired fantasy life. Harold adores perky Becky (Marsden), daughter of high school science teacher Mr. Fielding (Stephen Breithaupt), but Becky’s involved with unworthy but sexy school bully Steve (Todd Fournier). Meanwhile, home ec teacher Miss Benson (Ali Spuck) simmers with unrequited longing for her widowed colleague, Mr. Fielding. Of course, all the ordinary characters in Harold’s high school milieu assume extraordinary alter egos, both heroic and villainous, in his fantasy world.


The simple yet utilitarian conceit results in some richly comic situations -- and a few missed opportunities. Aside from sound system glitches on opening night, more serious problems include the inclusion of several soft-rock musical numbers that seem anachronistic -- and insipid. Also, although Brian Banks and Anthony Marinelli are credited as music producer-arrangers, the absence of a musical director is keenly felt when cast members strain for notes far out of their ranges.

Still, the actors all have opportunities to shine, especially the winning Earley, whose rendition of “Find a Hero” is a showstopper. Now, if they want this show to reach its boffo potential, it’s up to the creators to go back to the high school science lab to find the right chemistry for this charming yet incomplete experiment.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“It Came From Beyond!” Write-Act Theatre, 6128 Yucca St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Ends Feb. 25. $30. (310) 827-5232. Running time: 2 hours.

A ‘Triptych’

of haunted lives

The intersecting lives of a philandering writer’s mistress, wife and teenage daughter chart deep cross-currents of the feminine psyche in “Triptych,” a one-act by Edna O’Brien at the Matrix Theatre.

Nomad Theatre Company’s production double-casts two of the play’s three characters, so interpretive variation is inevitable. Veteran Susan Clark solidly anchors each performance as the tenacious, long-suffering Pauline, a sharp-tongued Irish survivor of marital combat. Appearing like an ominous stalker in the dressing room of her husband’s latest conquest, a repressed English stage actress named Clarissa (Kaye Kittrell, Linda Slade), Pauline stakes her territorial claim in a series of encounters (“women throw themselves at him, and I am always there in the ring for the last round”).

Still, the weight of her man’s long history of compulsive betrayals has taken its toll, and Pauline is starting to lose it -- drunkenly sniping at her rebellious daughter (Samantha Sloyan, Rosemary Morgan) and at one point disrupting one of her rival’s performances with the kind of tirade better-behaved captive theater audiences have only dreamed about.


The writer never appears, but his imprint is writ large across these women -- so large that their inability to define their lives except in relation to him becomes the tragic focus of the piece.

Stage medium notwithstanding, O’Brien is a novelist first and foremost. Instead of naturalism charged with subtext, “Triptych’s” dialogue sparkles with fluid, meticulous prose that articulates the characters’ innermost longings, fears and impulses. In fact, there is no subtext here -- everything is dredged up to the surface.

Nevertheless, Robin Gammell’s atmospheric staging infuses the words and action with mystery, effectively employing first-rate lighting (Jeffrey A. Burke), sound (David Beaudry), and a three-ring set to make the complex relations between these three haunted women -- well, haunting.

-- Philip Brandes

“Triptych,” Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 12. $25. (866) 966-6623 or Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Skeletons parade from the closet

Stylized fascination lurks within the convolutions of “Von Lutz” at the Lillian Theatre. Dennis Miles’ cracked gothic saga about a psychosexual rich clan and the charismatic relative who upends them is unkempt yet effective on its own outre terms.

“Von Lutz” (pronounced “loots”) observes the wages of amorality, as visited upon sculptor Teodor (Stewart Skelton) and ex-B-movie-star Vitgen (Diane Cary). These devoted serial adulterers have profoundly affected their fraternal twin children. Ever-composed Anelle (Devin Sidell) plans to marry reliable Donald (Anthony Backman), though she’ll never love anyone as much as she digs Dad. Not even Dix (Barrett Kime), her amorously addled brother, whose mental condition dates back to Vitgen’s prenatal antipathy.


Before Anelle’s engagement party, where family history and busted affairs jockey amid the giant chess sculptures that dot Dan Mailley’s set, long-lost cousin Diern (Steve Callahan) arrives, to pull the tribe into provocative complications.

Author Miles has tightened his narrative since the 2005 premiere under Jon Lawrence Rivera’s direction. He can still play around with the ritual vignettes that David B. Marling’s sound plot charts, and some revealed details are better off implied. Yet his tale tangles tellingly, the designs, including Robert Oriol’s precise lighting and Miguel Montalvo’s pointed costumes, are evocative, and the avid actors wear their perversity with panache. The bravura Cary and nuanced Skelton make slyly ambiguous partners. Sidell’s subtlety and Kime’s abandon fit like puzzle pieces, and Callahan vaults over potential cliche without blinking. Donald Agnelli, James Michael Bobby, Kerri Higuchi and Brenda McDonald complete a competent troupe. “Von Lutz” will not please everyone, but, as ready-made screenplays go, it is nothing if not original.

-- David C. Nichols

“Von Lutz,” Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 12. Mature audiences. $20. (866) 811-4111 or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

They’re ‘Stuck’ in a cycle of sorrows

In an ambitious production at Hollywood’s Meta Theatre, Jessica Goldberg’s edgy contemporary drama “Stuck” marries the bankruptcy of heartland American dreams with some of the most dysfunctional parenting this side of “Medea.”

Goldberg’s monosyllabic grunt of a title says it all. Though still in their 20s, two young women -- best friends since childhood -- are tethered to their dead-end lives as video store clerks in Middletown, USA.

Margaritah (Danette Sigut) is saddled with a baby and an unreliable, never-seen husband; Lula (Ana Kelley) with an alcoholic train wreck of a mother (Terri Lynn Harris, in a superbly squalid portrayal). The cycle of wounds that parents inflict on their children is an unbroken chain in Goldberg’s claustrophobic universe, and all the characters bear the psychological scars. Margaritah’s idea of maternal affection is to call her child “stupid” and “retarded.” Ana constantly seeks to fill the void left by a father she never knew.


Unexpected romances cruelly kindle hope in each girl. Margaritah takes up with a visiting Argentine mogul (Michael Traynor, who also directs) who’s buying a local factory because, “We’d rather pollute your country than our own.” Unfazed by her lover’s fascist politics, she places her dreams of salvation in a very leaky vessel, and is even willing to abandon her baby to escape. Though Lula has a better developed moral center, it doesn’t keep her from a fling with a much older man (John Dalesandro), in a union that reeks with incestuous overtones.

Performances are solid with respect to individual characterizations, though interactions are awkwardly paced, especially at the outset. The psychic bond the two lifelong friends claim to have is nowhere apparent.

Overall, this committed effort sketches the play’s broad strokes, but lacks the resources to do full justice to characters who are aware enough to recognize their unhappiness but not smart enough to do anything about it. The space between imagined fulfillment and reality is a bad place to be stuck.

-- P.B.

“Stuck,” Meta Theatre, 7801 Melrose Ave. Unit 3, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 5. $15. (323) 445-6632 or www.metatheatre .org. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Who’s fooling whom in ‘Deceit’?

In “Deceit,” author-director Bruce Kimmel attempts the comedy mystery genre re-popularized in recent years by Rupert Holmes. Sadly, this alleged comic thriller about a nubile young widow and her late husband’s visiting childhood pal has little point beyond testing the stamina of its cast and the patience of its audience.

Its setting is a Manhattan apartment, austerely designed by Matt Scardino with scrim-paneled bathroom and windows through which Craig Housenick’s lights flash in “dark and stormy night” fashion. Here, bereaved Kate (Tammy Minoff) greets Michael (Matthew Ashford of “Days of Our Lives”), who brings condolences and a videotape of deceased Jeffrey (Greg Albanese) in younger days.


Widow and crony banter and flirt in pop-referential authorial comment that leans toward self-parody. This is presumably deliberate, intended to throw us off, but it makes for some uncomfortably unintentional-feeling humor. Act 1 ends with a graphic on-stage murder and curtain “surprise,” followed by Act 2 reversals that may baffle those who have never seen “Deathtrap” or “Les Diaboliques.”

Kimmel, a celebrated producer of show-tune recordings, is especially unfortunate in his labored exposition, and his staging is slick but strenuous. At the reviewed performance, a cat-and-mouse chase went so off-tempo that Minoff, a veteran of musicals, danced in place until her assailant hit his mark. Ashford has given some admirable legit performances, but his enervated turn here is not one of them, and Albanese is miscast and misused. For all its professional credentials, “Deceit” is mainly fooling itself, less a whodunit than a why-do-it.

-- D.C.N.

“Deceit,” El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 19. $25. (800) 595-4849 or Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.