The arrival of fall marks the return of our theater column on L.A.’s smaller stages. This week’s selections spotlight new and newly revised plays with lessons and legacies drawn from real-world events, from the journeys of an immigrant family and a devout Southern spinster to a pair of dramas shaped by the Holocaust. Each show offers a caution to pay attention to past mistakes or remain doomed to repeat them.
‘Miss Lilly Gets Boned’ by Rogue Machine
The essentials: A virgin Sunday school teacher risks a last-ditch attempt at romance with a charming stranger in this revised early drama by Bekah Brunstetter, the “This Is Us” supervising producer whose play “The Cake” was a national hit following its 2017 SoCal premiere. As Miss Lilly’s religious faith is tested by human fallibility, the impulse for violence under stress proves the literal elephant in the room. The piece was in fact inspired by rising incidents of young elephants’ murderous rampages following the poaching of their elders, a theme Brunstetter incorporates into a parallel story line with perilous consequences for her human characters.
Why this? As in the “The Cake,” the playwright’s Southern Baptist upbringing shapes her protagonist’s ethical and spiritual quandaries, updated and sharpened with her director, Rogue Machine co-founder Robin Larsen. The magical realism of “Miss Lilly” is closer to the writer’s work for “American Gods” than “This Is Us” — less formally structured, more adventurous and much, much darker.
Details: A Rogue Machine production in the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice. 8 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 28. Exceptions: Sept. 28 performance is at 2 p.m., Sept. 29 is dark. $20-$40. (855) 585-5185, roguemachinetheatre.com
‘The Spanish Prayer Book’ at the Road
The essentials: An obscure, hauntingly beautiful 14th century illuminated Hebrew manuscript resurfaces at an auction and sparks controversy with the revelation that it had been rescued — or stolen — from the library of a Jewish institution destroyed during the Nazi regime. Inspired by a 1984 court case, Angela J. Davis’ new play envisions six radically diverse characters whose lives are altered by wartime theft of sacred art and the resulting conflicts, decades later. Lee Sankowich’s staging for the Road Theatre Company includes projected illustrations from the actual manuscript.
Why this? Recently honored by the Moss Hart & Kitty Carlisle Hart New Play Initiative as one of the top 21 new plays (from more than 1,200 submissions), Davis’ play offers a literate meditation on the boundaries of ownership and social responsibility.
Details: The Road Theatre on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 23. $34. (818) 761-8838, RoadTheatre.org
‘Las Mujeres del Mar’ by Playwrights’ Arena
The essentials: Inspired by the women in her family — “Warriors whose stories and struggles have given me strength and purpose” — Janine Salinas Schoenberg has written a timely, hard-hitting new drama that traces three generations of immigrant women. From the hopelessness of a Mexican fishing village to the crime-ridden concrete banks of the L.A. River, “Las Mujeres del Mar” (“The Women of the Sea”) presents snapshots of their lives, honoring their resilience in the face of sexual abuse, drug addiction, gang warfare and poverty, with little help from men who profess to love them but never stick around. Southland veteran Diane Rodriguez directs for Playwrights’ Arena, a company exclusively focused on developing works by L.A. playwrights.
Why this? In her writing for television (“Snowfall,” “American Crime”), Schoenberg demonstrates a keen eye for gritty details of L.A. street life, and in this play she weaves them into an hommage to women striving for a better life.
Details: A Playwrights’ Arena production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 14. Also 4 p.m. Oct. 5. $30-$40. (800) 838-3006, playwrightsarena.org
‘Never Is Now’ at Skylight
The essentials: Firsthand accounts of Nazi atrocities form the basis of Wendy Kout’s new play, which builds on a previous project that brought Holocaust survivors into schools to foster awareness in a new generation. Under the co-direction of Skylight Theatre regulars Tony Abatemarco and Celia Mandela Rivera, Kout’s meta-theatrical premise is incorporated into the play’s structure, as the cast play actors wrestling with the meaning and implications of the material they’re bringing to life.
Why this?: Despite the horrifying nature of the survivors’ experiences, Kout stresses the importance for future generations to relate. “Remember that when these survivors were going through the Holocaust, they were young,” she says. Insecurities, false bravado, self-absorption, love — these characters still foster a connection on a core human level. “This is for and about young people, about any minority that feels threatened … to bring modernity and universality to ‘Never forget.’ Never again. Never is now.”
Details: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 27. Dark Sept. 29. $35-$41. (213) 761-7061, skylighttheatre.org
Kirk Douglas: “On Beckett” review, Bill Irwin interview
South Coast Repertory: “American Mariachi” review
Deaf West: “Solid Life of Sugar Water” review
Odyssey: “In Circles” review
Casa 0101: “Always Running” review
Geffen: “Skintight” review
Echo: “Handjob” review
Theatricum: “Gin Game” review
Geffen: “Witch” review
This column appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some recommendations are shows we’ve seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast.
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