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‘Friends With Guns,’ cruel girls in ‘The Wolves’ and other picks from L.A.’s small stages

‘Friends With Guns,’ cruel girls in ‘The Wolves’ and other picks from L.A.’s small stages
By turns funny and cruel, the high school girls at the center of "The Wolves" buffet between friendship and rivalry with wrenching authenticity in Sarah DeLappe's play. (Darrett Sanders)

When it comes to communication, humans can have dangerously selective hearing, as demonstrated this week in the 99-Seat Beat, our look at L.A.’s small-theater scene.

Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer finalist, “The Wolves,” at the Echo Theater captures the scattershot interactions among teenage girls. “Friends with Guns” at the Road on Magnolia tracks the gaping fault lines underneath an apparently stable marriage. Interweaving multiple characters across decades, Nick Payne’s “Incognito” touches upon the poignant case of a man whose short-term memory has been surgically destroyed, while the short plays in Open Fist’s third annual pop-up festival communicate unease over the nation’s political impasse.

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‘The Wolves’ at the Echo

The essentials: During practices, the girls on the high school soccer team the Wolves engage in desultory, often overlapping chatter on topics ranging from the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge to their menstrual cycles. Whether childlike or sexually precocious, the teens form cliques within cliques; new alliances form and old friendships succumb to peer pressure and competitive jealousy. When tragedy intervenes, the Wolves hurtle painfully toward adulthood.

Why this? Fiercely slice-of-life, Sarah DeLappe’s play, a Pulitzer finalist in 2017, takes us behind the scenes of “typical” girls. Sometimes clueless, frequently funny, often cruel, DeLappe’s characters are so specifically delineated that we feel as if we are invisible onlookers in some tribal ceremony — a coming-of-age ritual as wrenching as it is authentic. The Echo Theater has consistently exciting fare, and the director of this production, Alana Dietze, staged “Dry Land,” which skillfully dealt with similar subject matter.

Details: Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and Mondays; 4 p.m. Sundays; ends April 22. $34. (Mondays are $20 in advance, pay what you want at the door.) (310) 307-3753; EchoTheaterCompany.com

Makeda Declet in Echo Theater's production of "The Wolves."
Makeda Declet in Echo Theater's production of "The Wolves." (Darrett Sanders)

‘Friends With Guns’ at the Road on Magnolia

The essentials: When married couple Shannon and Josh meet fun-loving fellow liberals Leah and Danny, it seems like a friendship made in heaven. But when Josh discovers that Danny has a cache of guns locked in his garage, he reacts with knee-jerk outrage. Shannon, however, pursues her friendship with Leah, finding new confidence and independence during her secret visits to the firing range. Then Josh learns of Shannon’s new hobby.

Why this? In her enthralling new play, Stephanie Alison Walker artfully inverts liberal expectations for a revisionist drama centered on the nation’s gun debate. Director Randee Trabitz has an extensive résumé with an emphasis on new works, and the Road has an almost spooky knack for scouting out the best new plays on offer.

Details: The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends May 5. $34. (818) 761-8838. roadtheatre.org

Kate Huffman, left, and Arianna Ortiz star in the Road Theatre Company’s premiere of "Friends With Guns."
Kate Huffman, left, and Arianna Ortiz star in the Road Theatre Company’s premiere of "Friends With Guns." (Brian M. Cole)

‘Incognito’ at Son of Semele

The essentials: Nick Payne’s complicated drama revolves around three stories: A pathologist steals Einstein’s brain, the object of his mounting obsession; a man with no short-term memory is pitifully unable to grasp the pathos of his situation; and a neuropsychologist struggles to find her moorings after a shattering divorce. Vaulting back and forth in time, the play delves into the mysterious processes of the human brain by charting the fortunes of its diverse characters.

Why this? Based on real people and real situations (a small cast personifies more than 20 characters), Payne’s mind-boggling play piques the intellect like the most arcane brain teaser. Pay close attention, however, and you may find “Incognito” reverberates with surprising emotional force. Son of Semele Ensemble has been stepping up in recent seasons with impressively iconoclastic productions, such as the recent “The Woman Who Went Into Space as a Man.” This may be its most ambitious undertaking to date.

Details: Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. Tuesdays; ends April 7. $25. sonofsemele.org

"Incognito" cast members, from left: Dan Via, Sarah Rosenberg, Alex Wells and Debba Rofheart.
"Incognito" cast members, from left: Dan Via, Sarah Rosenberg, Alex Wells and Debba Rofheart. (Son of Semele Ensemble)

What Matters Now?/! at Open Fist

The essentials: This third annual “political pop-up” at Open Fist Company features 10-minute plays culled from more than 100 submissions. The 12 selections will be performed — eight or nine per evening — on a rotating basis. As in years past, the theater will be transformed into a casual speakeasy, complete with a corner bar and chairs and sofas on which to lounge.

Why this? The comfy setting belies the program’s serious intent. Open Fist started the festival after President Trump’s election, as artistic director Martha Demson thought about the role of theater in the aftermath. Demson and her readers searched out plays with narrative thrust that were neither heavy-handed nor slight. The result, Demson said, was an immediate hit.

Details: Open Fist Theatre Company, Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; ends April 6. $25-$30. (323) 882-6912. openfist.org

Open Fist goes for a speakeasy setting during its "What Matters Now?/!" festival of short plays.
Open Fist goes for a speakeasy setting during its "What Matters Now?/!" festival of short plays. (Darrett Sanders)

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. Check out our picks from last week.

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