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Entertainment & Arts

A famous singer, a child alleging abuse and the elusive truth in ‘Never Ever Land’

Andrew Carter (with Josh Randall in the background) plays the protagonist of Rider Strong’s new play “Never Ever Land,”  a Theatre Unleashed production in L.A.'s Koreatown.
Andrew Carter (with Josh Randall in the background) plays the protagonist of Rider Strong’s new play “Never Ever Land,” a Theatre Unleashed production in L.A.'s Koreatown.
(Matt Kamimura)

To find juicy plots, poor old Shakespeare had to slog through “Holinshed’s Chronicles” and “Plutarch’s Lives.” Today’s playwrights need only switch on the news for material — and then write like the wind, because something crazier is bound to happen in an hour.

Opening this week on SoCal’s small stages are three plays that use current events as jumping-off points for cultural exploration. “Never Ever Land” fictionalizes a well-known sexual assault case involving a megastar. In “A Kid Like Jake,” parents struggle to make the best choices for their gender-nonconforming child. “Yoga Play” invites us into the corporate offices of an apparel manufacturer whose Eastern spiritual values and Western capitalism comically clash. The fourth play on our list, Charles Ludlam’s reliably entertaining horror satire “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” is included as a palate cleanser, a bracing shot of camp. Because nobody should have to watch the news 24/7.

‘Never Ever Land’ in Koreatown

The essentials: Rider Strong, who starred as the dreamboat Shawn Hunter on “Boy Meets World,” not only dodged the well-known pitfalls of early celebrity but went on to graduate from Columbia University and to earn an MFA in fiction from Bennington College. The fictional protagonist of Strong’s new play, “Never Ever Land,” hasn’t been as lucky: When Tim was a child, he and his family sued one of the most famous men in the world, earning millions of dollars but just as many haters. Years later, Tim continues to struggle with his role in the scandal. Although Strong’s take on this hot-button material isn’t autobiographical, it’s definitely informed by his own experience of living in the spotlight.

Why this? Theatre Unleashed, the small, itinerant company that’s giving “Never Ever Land” its world premiere, knows how to pick collaborators: The production is directed by Michael A. Shepperd, the artistic director of the well respected Celebration Theatre; it’s produced by Andrew Carlberg, who was a producer on “Skin,” the Oscar winner this year for live action short film.

Details: A Theatre Unleashed production at studio/stage, 520 N. Western Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 27. $35. theatreunleashed.org/

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Tim Peper, Sharon Lawrence, center, and Sarah Utterback in “A Kid Like Jake” at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Carrie Hamilton Theatre.
Tim Peper, Sharon Lawrence, center, and Sarah Utterback in “A Kid Like Jake” at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Carrie Hamilton Theatre.
(Adam Shapiro)

‘A Kid Like Jake’ in Pasadena

The essentials: Daniel Pearle revised his 2013 play, “A Kid Like Jake,” for this new production by IAMA Theatre Company. Six years may not sound like a long time, but it might as well be a millennium when it comes to our evolving conception of gender identity. As Pearle says in IAMA’s press release, he first wrote about a 4-year-old boy who identifies with Cinderella “before ‘Transparent,’ before Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox.” He then adapted it for the 2018 feature film of the same name starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons. Details have changed, but the story hasn’t: “It’s still about the anxiety of being a parent, of trying to do the right thing for your child,” Pearle said.

Why this? This West Coast premiere, hosted by the Pasadena Playhouse in its intimate Carrie Hamilton Theatre, has mustered star power to match the award-winning play’s wattage. The cast includes Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue”) and Sarah Utterback (“Grey’s Anatomy”), along with the director Jennifer Chambers, whose world premiere of Bekah Brunstetter’s ‘The Cake’ in 2017 became a national phenomenon.

Details: IAMA Theatre production at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 3. $35. (323) 380-8843 or iamatheatre.com

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Ayelet Firstenberg, left, Bobak Bakhtiari and Ryan Morales in “Yoga Play” at the San Francisco Playhouse.
Ayelet Firstenberg, left, Bobak Bakhtiari and Ryan Morales starred in “Yoga Play” at the San Francisco Playhouse and will help re-create the production in Laguna.
(Jessica Palopoli/San Francisco Playhouse)

‘Yoga Play’ in Laguna Beach

The essentials: The inciting incident in Dipika Guha’s madcap comedy will probably ring a bell. The CEO of a trendy yoga attire company, Jojomon, responds to complaints that its expensive pants are see-through by blaming the size of the customers’ thighs. In the wake of this PR disaster, executives struggle to salvage the company’s image and its finances. According to a rave in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Guha mines the tension between integrity and the profit motive — tension that’s particularly juicy in an industry that espouses concern for your health and spirit at the same time that its raison d’etre is to get you to buy more things.”

Why this? The directors of the Laguna Playhouse saw “Yoga Play” last spring at the San Francisco Playhouse and loved the production so much they invited it, lock, stock and barrel, down to the O.C. sojourn. The play is coming home, in a sense: Guha developed “Yoga Play” during a 2017 residency at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

Details: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 5:30 p.m Sundays, through Oct. 13. $45-$65. (949) 497-2797 or lagunaplayhouse.com

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 Isaac Wade, sitting, and John Allee in “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at Actors Co-op.
Isaac Wade, left, and John Allee in “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at Actors Co-op.
(Matthew Gilmore)

‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’ in Hollywood

The essentials: Of course it’s important to muse on society’s many, many problems, but sometimes can’t we just watch actors be silly? Ideally, dressed like werewolves? Fortunately, Actors Co-op is reviving Charles Ludlam’s satirical burlesque, “The Mystery of Irma Vep — A Penny Dreadful.”

Why this? First performed by Ludlam and his life partner, Everett Quinton, at New York’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company in 1984, this spirited melodrama pokes fun at horror movies of the 1930s and ’40s along with popular films including “Rebecca” and “Wuthering Heights.” Two actors take on an absurd variety of roles, often within a single conversation. Their quick-change feats, which can leave even the fittest out of breath, rely so heavily on theatrical ingenuity that the backstage crew becomes an unseen costar. John Allee and Isaac Wade take on this crowd-pleasing challenge alongside the courageous director Carla Cackowski, making her Actors Co-op debut.

Details: The Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m Sundays, through Nov. 10; see website for exceptions and additions. $35. (323) 462-8460 or actorsco-op.org.

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You always can find our latest theater news and reviews at latimes.com/theater. Recent coverage includes “Grumpy Old Men” at La Mirada, “Las Mujeres del Mar” at Playwrights’ Arena, “Almost Famous” at the Old Globe, “Sisters in Law” at the Wallis, “Little Shop of Horrors” at Pasadena Playhouse, “A Play Is A Poem” at the Mark Taper Forum, “Deadly” at Sacred Fools, “On Beckett” at the Kirk Douglas, “American Mariachi” at South Coast Rep, “The Solid Life of Sugar Water” at Deaf West, “In Circles” at the Odyssey and “Always Running” at Casa 0101.

The 99-Seat Beat
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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