Eras come and go, but Ray Bradbury’s writing endures, and it drives “Ray Bradbury’s Green Town” at the Fremont Centre Theatre. Though more prosaic than dramatic, the venerable wordsmith’s salute to small-town Illinois life on the eve of the Great Depression laces its bucolic nostalgia with ample wit and gentle warmth.
Set in 1929, Act 1 follows adolescent Ralph Spaulding (Anders Asbjornsen), who senses something unusual coming to Grandma’s (Roses Prichard) boarding house (designed by John Edw. Blankenchip). Abandoning former idol Mr. Wyneski (Philip Sokoloff), the town barber, for new boarder Mr. Dickens (Michael Prichard), Ralph changes his name to “Pip” and helps transcribe “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Meanwhile, though Mr. Wyneski cries fraud, Green Town’s librarian (Georgan George) warms to the courtly, Victorian-clad stranger. Asbjornsen’s line readings are slightly studied, but his spirits are utterly correct, and Michael Prichard’s geniality is as vivid as Sokoloff’s pique is tickling.
Act 2 tips its hat to “Dandelion Wine,” as Douglas (Gabe Kahn) and Tom (Cole Rainey) coax dying Col. Freeleigh (David Fox-Brenton) into recalling past battles. Fox-Brenton has striking resonance, aided by designer Howard Schmidt’s instant wardrobe changes, and both boys are delightful. So is the finale of Mr. Spaulding and young Charlie (Paul Bond and real-life son Matthew Bond) treating Green Town to an ersatz Egyptian mummy. This sequence, less acted than savored, encapsulates “Green Town’s” appeal.
The designs are evocative, with assets in Peter Strauss’ moody lighting and David Gunn’s tinkling original score, and Bradbury’s ripe language sustains past the odd exposed beat or shaky transition of director Alan Neal Hubbs’ sturdy staging. As such, the net effect of this wistful charmer is akin to catching fireflies on a balmy summer night.
-- David C. Nichols
“Ray Bradbury’s Green Town,” Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 29. $20. (323) 960-4451 or www.Plays411.com/raybradbury. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Latinos throw down the gauntlet
In visual art, a work might be left untitled because the artist intended to leave room for interpretation. So “Sin Titulo” (Untitled) seems an appropriate label for Teatro Nueva Alma’s current show. Presented as a sort of exhibition of social interactions, these 15 mini-plays, poems and movement pieces challenge theatergoers to get involved and work things out for themselves.
As a signpost to understanding, the company provides the motto: “Ours is not only a Latino experience but also a human one.”
Stereotypes are exploded in a sketch about an amusement park ride that cruises past dioramas of various Latin American cultures. A giggling, safari-hatted Anglo serves as guide; the animatronic scenes are all horribly cliched.
In another segment, those collectible, plastic Homies figurines come to life in the minds of the children who play with them. Wryly yet sweetly, the piece raises questions about role models and cultural conditioning. A “Stomp"-like percussive movement piece explores expectations between the sexes. Three industrious women create a daily rhythm as they clatter their skillets onto the stove, then season and stir the pans’ contents. Men respond with mere grunts and slurps.
Roughly 75% of the program is in English, the rest in Spanish. The segments are performed on a bare stage, with costumes and a few props providing context.
John Miyasaki directs writer-performers Sara Ceballos, Ibrahim Chavez, Stephanie Chavez, Carolina Espiro, Joana Perey, Dennis Perez and Estevan Vigil. These artists are still young, still polishing their skills. Strong ideas go underdeveloped; performances sometimes falter.
Even so, something important is happening here, because what Teatro Nueva Alma (Theater of the New Soul) ultimately conveys is that, even with all that divides us, still more serves to unite.
-- Daryl H. Miller
“Sin Titulo,” Armory Center for the Arts Northwest, 965 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays. Ends Aug. 31. $14; $10 in advance. (626) 375-5219. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Apocalypse can really limit storytelling options: Things are bad, people adapt or they don’t. Richard Caliban’s grimly comedic “Famine Plays,” presented by 6140 Productions and Theatre of NOTE, offers a vivid but narrow vision of a bombed-out America without order, electricity or hope.
On Jeanine Nicholas’ torn-up highway set -- imagine one of the 110’s seamier underpasses -- director Amanda McRaven and her team create striking images: A senile old man pulls an empty baby stroller across the detritus-clogged stage; a father gives a golf lesson to his freaked-out son in the middle of a firestorm. Overhead, upside-down umbrella frames, stripped of their protective fabric, form spiky chandeliers for the bare bulbs glaring down on Caliban’s refugees. They’re all stressed out with nowhere to go.
So far, so bleak. But “Famine Plays’ ” flavor comes from strong performances that locate the play’s no-man’s land in a recognizable emotional reality. The engaging Trevor H. Olsen, as the yuppie Fleet who loses his eyes in a skirmish, is the play’s Virgil, a blind tour guide whose lacerating irony struggles to keep anguish at bay. Shell-shocked Michelle D. Hilyard, a recently bereaved mother -- her mammaries still tight with milk -- finds an unlikely mouth to feed. Meanwhile, Judith Ann Levitt and John MacKane, as long-married senior citizens, offer a sweetly desolate portrait of a matter-of-fact love that can’t survive the desolation around it.
Whether you find this impressive acting exercise sustaining for 90 minutes all depends on your taste for end times. Think of “Famine Plays” as a fractured episode of “Survivor,” where the immunity idol turns out to be the ability to tolerate an all-too-human awareness of our desperate animal needs.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“Famine Plays,” Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Aug. 4. $18. (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
One woman’s tribal tribulations
Social consciousness suffuses “What’s an Indian Woman to Do?” at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Mark Anthony Rolo’s solo play about the rift between heritage and modernity requires that a Native American actress play its multiple roles, which DeLanna Studi, a star of Cherokee origin, does with resolute skill.
Focusing on Belle, born to an Ojibwe father and a white mother, Rolo’s cunningly crafted monologue begins with a Halloween memory. Adolescent Belle plans to trick-or-treat as Disney’s Pocahontas, only to discover that blond, blue-eyed Katrina, her “best friend,” has deliberately appropriated Belle’s costume.
Katrina’s encroachment on Belle’s territory underpins the scenario, as she smilingly steals Belle’s high school sweetheart, then embraces Ojibwe culture to bed Ojibwe men. Years later, Katrina and her Ojibwe boyfriend Moose enter the cafe where Belle works. A plan for revenge unfolds.
The other story thread involves crusty Auntie Belle, who calls her namesake “City Girl” and carries the heart of Rolo’s argument. By the end, City Girl achieves detente between her urban surroundings and native roots, joining a traditional dance in the blue glow of designer Ryan Hindinger’s light plot.
Studi is something to see and, at times, her dutiful attack yields versatile fruit. The exchanges between Belle and Auntie have a quiet pull, and slow-on-the-uptake Moose is probably the best thing in the show.
But director Kenneth Martines allows uneven pacing and a faintly automated tone to dull Rolo’s mix of the poetic and conversational, with ennui setting in midway through. Audiences sensitive to its issues may appreciate “Indian Woman,” but it wavers between respectable festival specialty and earnest academic entry.
“What’s an Indian Woman to Do?” Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Ends July 14. $20. (213) 489-3281 or www.latinotheater.com. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.