Defiance and rebellion color this week’s promising new theater options in L.A. and its environs: Laguna Playhouse offers 12th century royals battling for succession, the Odyssey delivers a father seekings emotional connection with his estranged daughter, Independent Shakespeare Company brings to life an iconoclastic 1930s erotic dancer putting her life on the line for her art, and Circle X rips loose with punk-rocker wannabes coming of age amid Reagan-era complacency.
‘The Lion in Winter’ at Laguna Playhouse
The essentials: “What shall we hang — the holly, or each other?” If you thought holidays with your relatives could be perilous, consider the Plantagenet clan’s Christmas. It’s 1183, and aging King Henry II has temporarily paroled his imprisoned spouse and sparring partner, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for another round of palace intrigue. Their three sons vie against one another in a scramble for succession to the throne.
Why this? James Goldman’s witty, literate drama (and subsequent Oscar-winning film adaptation) enlivens historical figures with present-day sensibilities, eloquence and sarcasm. As the dueling royal couple, film and TV veterans Gregory Harrison and Frances Fisher headline this Laguna Playhouse staging by former Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps. “The play is all about power,” Epps says, “and what the powerful will do to keep what they have or to get what they want.” The royals’ domestic squabbles may have life-and-death consequences for entire populations, but, as Eleanor admits with a sigh, “what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”
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 Nov. 24. (Also 2 p.m. Thursday. $50-$75. (949) 497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com
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‘Before’ at the Odyssey
The essentials: Acclaimed Irish actor Pat Kinevane continues his longtime association with the Odyssey Theatre in the U.S. premiere of his latest solo performance piece, “Before.” On the closing day of a 104-year-old Dublin department store, a working-class loner shops for a gift to bridge the 20-year separation from the beloved daughter he inadvertently conceived in a one-night stand but then lost in a child-custody dispute. Despite the narrator’s avowed distaste for musical theater, original song-and-dance parodies and hommages to classic Broadway musicals keep intruding on his internal reality. The result is a devastating collision of sentimental nostalgia, wishful thinking and harsh reality.
Why this? Kinevane’s earthy yet poetic confessional monologues weave fictional stories with characters who are hauntingly weird and heartbreakingly familiar. As in the previous Kinevane shows presented by the Odyssey (“Forgotten,” “Silent” and “Underneath”), Kinevane’s performance here intends to stretch the solo genre’s traditional boundaries to evoke compassion for outsiders who slip through the social safety net. In “Before,” the focus is on the lasting psychological damage wrought by feuding parents who use child custody to attack each other.
Details: A Fishamble/Odyssey Theatre co-production at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 8 (dark on Thanksgiving Day). $20-$30. (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2, odysseytheatre.com
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ISC’s ‘Anita Berber Is Dead’
The essentials: Life was no cabaret for bisexual actress-dancer Anita Berber. Even by the permissive standards of 1920s Berlin, Berber’s erotic stage performances and polyamorous personal life were scandalous enough to get her blacklisted from legitimate stages. Despite a downward spiral of crime, drug addiction and financial ruin that led to her death at 29, Berber remained defiantly independent and committed to her artistic values. In a departure from Independent Shakespeare Company’s family-friendly summer romps in Griffith Park, this adults-only new musical biography was developed by the company in collaboration with actress and burlesque star Tonya Kay, who has the title role. Avant-garde opera star Timur also appears as Berber’s artistic partner and lover, Sebastian Droste, who ultimately betrayed her. The score is composed and performed by Jim Lang and ISC fan favorite David Melville.
Why this? For this immersive, limited-run premiere, the show’s director and playwright (and ISC co-founder) Melissa Chalsma has transformed the company’s intimate Atwater Village venue into a seedy nightclub, with table seating for Kay’s performance (which includes nudity and sexual situations). Chalsma was drawn to this charismatic figure set against a historical backdrop in which the very nature of art and entertainment were up for debate amid the rising wave of fascism. “Her life became a rebellion against patriarchal strictures,” Chalsma says. “It was a doomed rebellion, but that doesn’t make it any less inspiring.”
Details: ISC Studio at Atwater Crossing, 3191 Casitas Ave., Suite 130, Los Angeles. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 24. $25-$45. iscla.org
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Circle X’s ‘punkplay’
The essentials: Lace up those Doc Martens, gel that mohawk and prepare to thrash your way back to the 1980s mosh pit of “punkplay” — Gregory S. Moss’ affectionately retro coming-of-age comedy about two unremarkable American teenagers pursuing dreams of punk rock rebellion in Reagan-era suburbia. Structured like a narrative mixtape, episodic phases of the boys’ evolving identities parallel the history of punk music. Co-directed by Matt Bretz and Lisa Sanaye Dring, the characters glide around on roller skates as they seek firmer footing in their lives.
Why this? Hilariously naïve and self-important, the boys’ punk rebellion reflects in microcosm how a subculture built on defiance inevitably begets conformity. Nevertheless, the show also celebrates the purity of discovering the world for the first time, according to playwright Moss — “that reckless, excited period when we make all kinds of mistakes but feel fully alive and eager to construct a future.”
Details: A Circle X Theatre Co. production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, through Dec. 21. $25. circlextheatre.org
The 99-Seat Beat will be taking a break for the holidays. Look for other theater news and reviews at latimes.com/theater. Recent coverage includes “The Great Leap” at Pasadena Playhouse, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” at the Hollywood Pantages, “Elijah” at Victory Theatre, “The Thanksgiving Play” at Geffen Playhouse, cabaret shows in Costa Mesa and Beverly Hills, the performance art of Les Sewing Sisters and an interview with"The Inheritance” playwright Matthew Lopez.