Journeys into the past is the common theme on the 99-Seat Beat, our weekly look at Southern California’s small-theater scene. Reminiscences — comical and poignant — drive “The Lost Virginity Tour,” in which four women travel back to the scenes of their first sexual encounters. In “Birdland Blue,” jazz greats share recollections from their often-painful pasts. Meanwhile the protagonist of Jonathan Safran Foer’s loosely autobiographical “Everything Is Illuminated” scours the Ukraine for the older woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis, and in “The Chekhov Comedies” five of the master’s overlooked short plays are mounted al fresco.
ETC’s ‘Everything Is Illuminated’
The essentials: Accompanied by an overly enthusiastic Ukrainian tour guide, his elderly anti-Semitic grandfather and a deranged border collie, American author Jonathan Safran Foer searches the ruins of Jewish shtetls for the elderly woman who reportedly saved his grandfather during the Holocaust. The Ensemble Theatre Company production vaults surreally in time, but the initial wacky tone eventually segues into the dire, as the grandfather’s secret is revealed.
Why this? The word “meta” could have been coined for Foer’s loosely autobiographical 2002 book, which was adapted into a 2005 film before its London stage premiere in 2006. Foer’s yarn has been heralded for an offbeat blend of autobiography, Holocaust history, magical realism and farce that could have been lifted from a Hope-Crosby “Road” movie. Simon Block’s bucking bronco of an adaptation could daunt any theater company, but ETC Artistic Director Jonathan Fox, who directs this production, should be well-equipped to wrangle the juxtaposition of the humorous with the dark.
Details: Ensemble Studio Theatre Company at the New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through April 28. Also 7 p.m. April 16 and 4 p.m. April 20. $60-$75. (805) 965-5400, etcsb.org
‘The Lost Virginity Tour’ at McCadden
The essentials: Four women living in an Arizona retirement community meet regularly to exchange cookie recipes — not exactly a dazzling social scene. But when the women decide to take a road trip to the locales where each lost her virginity, it becomes a journey down memory lane with turns toward the unexpected as each recounts an introduction to sex in often hilarious but sometimes harrowing detail.
Why this? Playwright Cricket Daniel has her roots in stand-up, as is evident in her play’s crackling one-liners. However, don’t dismiss Daniel’s high-concept premise as sitcom-light; there’s plenty of dramatic heft behind her comic conceit. But the real charm of “Virginity” lies in the juicy roles it provides for mature female actors. Director Kristin Towers-Rowles was particularly “excited to get the opportunity to direct this funny and poignant show about women in their golden years not talking about their grandkids or their knitting circles, but talking about sex, love and being happy with who they’ve become.”
Details: McCadden Theatre, 1157 McCadden Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through May 5. $20. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com
‘The Chekhov Comedies’ at Brand Park
The essentials: Five of Chekhov’s short plays — “The Bear,” “An Unwilling Martyr,” “The Wedding,” “The Anniversary” and “The Proposal” — make up this program, which features an all-female cast of four performing more than two-dozen characters.
Why this? Those unfamiliar with Chekhov’s one-acts will find him refreshingly playful in abbreviated format. Passions run high and gullibility reigns in these cheeky playlets, which range from an unlikely romance between a bearish man and the young widow who owes him money, and a marriage proposal that goes downhill over a property dispute. The open-air setting for this free event should contribute to the festive atmosphere. Lawn chairs and blankets are recommended.
Details: Brand Park, 1601 W. Mountain Ave., Glendale. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through April 27. Also 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Free. Reservations required. deanproductionstheatre.com
Robey Theatre’s ‘Birdland Blue’
The essentials: Headlining at New York’s famed Birdland club in 1959, the visionary Miles Davis spearheads a sizzling sextet that includes John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Davis constantly fights for his rightful pay from the club’s owner while struggling to keep the band together. A vicious, bigoted cop sharply focuses the racial inequities of the day in this Robey Theatre Company production
Why this? Randy Ross’ world premiere play has a jazz score that echoes the richly improvisational nature of the dialogue – an emotionally charged conversational jam session that takes us into the interior lives of musical titans. Ben Guillory, the Robey’s co-founder and longtime artistic director, will direct. “I’m always searching for new innovative work that is right for Robey,” Guillory says. The Robey Playwrights Lab, conducted by dramaturg Dylan Southard, partners with writers to develop work about the black experience. “Birdland Blue” was selected to open the company’s 25th anniversary season.
Details: Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through May 12. Exceptions: 7 p.m. April 21 and May 12. $35. (866) 811-4111. robeytheatrecompany.com
The 99-Seat Beat 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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