Life can be a mystery, leaving us to puzzle things out. The feeling is familiar to the characters populating the shows featured in this week’s 99-Seat Beat look at what’s happening in Southern California’s smaller theaters: “Romeo and Juliet: Hard Way Home” by Cal Rep, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Greenway Arts Alliance, “Waiting for Waiting for Godot” by Sacred Fools and “The Wrong Kind of People” by Robey Theatre.
‘Romeo and Juliet: Hard Way Home’ by Cal Rep
The essentials: For young people like Romeo and Juliet, Verona is a place where hope dies. Trains crossing the Great Plains blow right past this isolated town, where the past hangs heavy in bitter feuds. What’s a kid to do but stare into the vast, open landscape, trying to imagine a way out? Cue the mournful-resilient Americana music of Brandi Carlile.
Why this? Songs such as “Hard Way Home,” “Raise Hell” and “Just Kids” from Carlisle’s 2012 “Bear Creek” album now convey the tumultuous feelings of the young people in Shakespeare’s play. “Her lyrics are already heightened text; they’re so emotional,” much like Shakespeare’s, says Beth Lopes, the Carlisle fan who conceived and directed “Romeo and Juliet: Hard Way Home” for Cal State Long Beach’s Cal Rep. She hopes to encourage audiences “to think about the world that we are creating for young people, and is it a world in which they feel they have a voice.” The 14 actors are CSULB students; Lopes (who has directed for the likes of South Coast Repertory and Coeurage), the music director and the choreographer are adult professionals.
Details: Cal State Long Beach’s University Theatre, 7th Street and East Campus Drive. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Nov. 16. $18-$23. calrep.org
‘Curious Incident’ by Greenway Arts Alliance
The essentials: Life just won’t stay orderly, no matter how much Christopher, an English 15-year-old who’s on the spectrum, would like it to. The slaying of a neighbor’s dog sets off a major disruption, prompting him to become a novice detective to set things right again. He soon realizes that he’s investigating human nature, the biggest mystery of all.
Why this? In a presentation by Greenway Arts Alliance, the story is given a handmade look, quite a change from the stunningly technological staging that helped make this piece a West End and Broadway hit. In Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” Christopher’s account of his adventure is, at a teacher’s urging, made into a play. Kate Jopson, who is directing for Greenway, wants the audience to experience that play as Christopher would make it, with a set crafted from items he would have found within his school, everything meticulously organized and labeled. She also sought an actor on the spectrum, choosing 19-year-old Iain Kohn, an Asperger’s syndrome spokesman, spoken-word artist and Cal State Northridge student.
Details: Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through Dec. 8; also 4 p.m. Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 and 8. $20-$34. (323) 673-0544, GreenwayCourtTheatre.org
‘Waiting for Waiting for Godot’ by Sacred Fools
The essentials: Two understudies while away time in a theater dressing room, awaiting a call to head to the stage to perform Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” but day after day, their purpose in life goes unfulfilled. Comparisons to Beckett’s original are strongly encouraged.
Why this? New York actor-writer Dave Hanson wrote “Waiting for Waiting for Godot” after understudying for the Beckett play. Jacob Sidney, who is directing the West Coast premiere for Sacred Fools, calls the piece “a loving expression of some of those essential questions that Beckett asks us to struggle with.” Should the actors stay? Should they go? Should they come back again tomorrow? Meanwhile, the script kicks up some laughs by poking fun at actors’ superstitions and elaborate backstage preparation routines. “He’s not afraid of a cheap joke,” Sidney says admiringly of Hanson. Bonus fact: The set is lovingly modeled on the dressing room at the Fools’ original theater on Heliotrope Drive, its home for more than 17 years.
Details: Broadwater Second Stage, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through Dec. 14; also 8 p.m. Nov. 18 and 5 p.m. Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 and 8. $15. SacredFools.org
‘The Wrong Kind of People’ by Robey Theatre
The essentials: At a downtown Los Angeles hotel in 1942, a young African American law student is shown the establishment’s run-down, purposely unappealing “colored room” — management’s way of urging him to look elsewhere. He finds the tucked-away location suitable, however, to last-minute studies for the bar exam. Turns out, the room’s window is a covert entry for a range of Angelenos with reasons to keep their activities hidden. This might be good training for his future.
Why this? Los Angeles of the early 1940s wasn’t overtly segregated, but, as one of the play’s black characters says early on: “No different than the South — they just try to hide it more here in the land of Hollywood.” Racial covenants restricted real-estate ownership in parts of the city, and job entry — or even a ride in a cab — might well be denied. Local playwright George W. Corbin is interested in history that has slipped from memory but would be instructive to revisit. After all, the 76-year-old says, “the past is not that far away.” He had a serious story in mind when he began, “but,” he says, “the characters took over and it became a comedic and zany play.” “The Wrong Kind of People” concludes the 25th season of Robey Theatre Company, which is committed to telling stories about the black experience.
Details: Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown L.A. Opens Saturday and plays 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; ends Dec. 8. $35; pay what you can Nov. 14 and 21. (866) 811-4111, thelatc.org