We may be heading into a bit of a summer slowdown, but shows are still opening in L.A.’s small theaters. Our picks this week: Coeurage Theatre’s “Slaughter City,” Whitefire’s “The Blade of Jealousy,” “Pumpboys and Dinettes” in Sierra Madre and “The 39 Steps” in Long Beach.
Coeurage Theatre’s ‘Slaughter City’
The essentials: Naomi Wallace’s play, commissioned and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1996, initially seems a straightforward drama about exploited slaughterhouse workers at the mercy of a corrupt management — until it segues into the surreal with the arrival of a mysterious newcomer.
Why this? Wallace’s writing delivers gut-churning authenticity. The characters labor under the most appalling conditions, including sexual harassment, endemic racism and slashes in pay. “She wrote this play in 1995 and was so far ahead of the conversations currently happening around racial privilege and sexual misconduct,” director Jer Adrianne Lelliott said. Lelliott added: “It didn’t hurt that she wrote an authentic leading role for a transgender actor.”
Details: Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; ends July 14. All seats are pay what you can. (323) 944-2165. www.coeurage.org/slaughtercity
‘Blade of Jealousy’ at Whitefire
The essentials: Activist and playwright Henry Ong updates Tirso de Molina’s farce “La Celosa de sí Misma” (“Jealous of Herself”), written around 1622, to modern-day Los Angeles. Hopeful swain Melchor moves to L.A. to meet his online love, Magdalena, for the first time, only to fall in love with a mysterious masked woman — unaware that she is Magdalena in disguise. Misguided admirers at complicated cross-purposes fuel the comical confusion.
Why this? Ong took a breather from serious projects so he could “write something that would tickle the funny bone.” “Blade” was commissioned for the Golden Tongues series, a partnership between Playwrights’ Arena and UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library established to revive Spanish classics. With this production, Ong and veteran director Denise Blasor resurrect the unjustly neglected De Molina, a lion of the Spanish Renaissance.
Details: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 7 p.m. Sundays; ends Aug. 26. $25. thebladeofjealousy.brownpapertickets.com
‘Pumpboys and Dinettes’ in Sierra Madre
The essentials: This show, nominated for best musical at the 1982 Tony Awards, features gas jockeys working next door to Prudie and Rhetta Cupp’s diner. The slender but serviceable plot provides the framework for 19 toe-tapping country tunes, with the performers doubling as onstage musicians.
Why this? Since its inception as an off-the-cuff two-hander in a New York City restaurant, “Pumpboys” has been a durable crowd-pleaser over the decades. The show, written in an era before the phrase “flyover” became a pejorative, is a simplistic sendup of small-town Americana that is affectionate in tone. It likely will appeal to those in the mood for sheer escapism, country-style.
Details: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays (also 2:30 p.m. Saturdays starting July 7), 2:30 p.m. Sundays; ends July 29. $40-$45. (626) 355-4318. www.sierramadreplayhouse.org
‘The 39 Steps’ at ICT
The essentials: This is Patrick Barlow’s ingenious, tongue-in-cheek adaptation of John Buchan’s 1915 novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 comical thriller. It centers on ill-fated Richard Hannay, an unlikely hero forced to turn fugitive when a mysterious woman is murdered in his apartment. Handcuffed to a beautiful but reluctant accomplice, Hannay must outwit a nefarious spy ring to prevent critical secrets from being sent out of the country.
Why this? Four performers play some 150 characters — a tour-de-force opportunity for the cast. A West End smash, the play transferred to Broadway in 2008, where it was honored with the Drama Desk Award for unique theatrical experience. The show requires split-second timing in performances as well as the technical elements. International City Theatre, a reliable company with a seasoned cast spearheaded by Bo Foxworth and Louis Lotorto, should be well up to the challenge.
Details: International City Theatre at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 E. Seaside Way. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends July 8. $47-$49. (562) 436-4610. www.InternationalCityTheatre.org
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some (but not all) recommendations are shows we’ve seen; other picks are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast. Comprehensive theater listings are posted every Sunday at latimes.com/arts.
See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.