Shanley, out on a limb

Times Staff Writer

Always game to experiment, John Patrick Shanley has delivered a tremendous variety of stories, from the magical romance of the movie "Moonstruck" to the tense stare-down of the play (and soon-to-be film) "Doubt."

He's also known for bleak but intermittently tender comedies. Three of these are playing locally: the early-'80s "Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays" and "Savage in Limbo" and 2001's "Where's My Money?"

The last of these -- presented by the new Actorhood company -- is a daisy chain of interactions among attractive, mostly well-to-do Manhattanites. Celeste (Madeleine Lindley), an exhibitionist/drama queen, confides graphic details of an affair when she happens upon Natalie (Jaimyse Haft), a former co-worker. A righteously indignant Natalie turns around and reads her the riot act. But Natalie has her own secret: a hollow-eyed guy (Nick Machado) who trails her, asking, "Where's my money?"

Subsequent scenes introduce Natalie's lawyer husband (Dayton Knoll), who's as adversarial at home as he is on the job, and Henry's colleague (Corbin Timbrook) and wife (Lisa London), who square off -- in their pink Barbie kitchen -- as though in a knife fight.

The past strangles the present. Nurturing impulses forever threaten to tip into destructive ones. The point of it all? Well, that might leave you scratching your head. But as directed by Sal Landi, the show is prankish, sly and sexy.

The presentation of 1985's "Savage in Limbo," at Two Roads Theatre, grew from an acting-class exercise that turned out so well that participants took it public.

It's a dead hour at a cheerless Bronx bar when Denise Savage (Jolene Kim) bursts in, eyes wide, feet spread -- ready for destiny or for a fight. Her jangled nerves soon find an echo in those of wailing Linda Rotunda (Laura Bottrell), whose preening boyfriend (Jamil Chokachi) is ready to leave her after a soul-altering vision.

Perched on a bar stool, quietly soused April (Pamela Donnelly) comes to, with haunted agitation, every once in a while. The bartender (Steve Kahela) is her guardian or her jailer, hard to say which.

The characters are nearly mad with the desire to make a change, to take control -- even if they don't know how to, or are afraid to, proceed. The actors clearly relish the opportunity to pursue emotions to extremes. Under Chris Stone's direction, they're fun to watch.

The six brief plays of 1982's "Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays" are an early-week offering by the Sacred Fools. Shanley demonstrates terrific economy of storytelling in these tales of people who yearn to have another person hear their deepest hopes and perhaps share -- or at least understand -- their feelings. Director Ruth Silveira stages the pieces with the charming simplicity of "Our Town" or "The Fantasticks," using low-tech, plywood set pieces and few furnishings.

The tales include a sweet story about a teen (Sean Sweeney) who nervously spills his feelings for a neighborhood girl and a touching mock western in which a sheltered town girl (Blythe Evans) yearns for the wide-open spaces known by a loping cowboy (Paul Byrne). The best two are tales of contemporary Manhattan guys -- both feature Tyler Brooks and Marc Jablon, standouts in this cast of eight -- who dare to reveal their vulnerability.

Here, as in so many of Shanley's stories, words must be spoken, actions must be taken, before it's too late.



Shanley plays

'Where's My Money?'

Where: Pan Andreas Theatre, 5125 Melrose Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; ends June 14

Price: $15

Contact: (323) 960-1052

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


'Savage in Limbo'

Where: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; ends June 21

Price: $15

Contact: (866) 811-4111

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes


'Welcome to the Moon and Other Plays'

Where: Sacred Fools, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and June 15 and 22; ends June 25

Price: $10

Contact: (310) 281-8337

Running time: 1 hour

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