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The 99-Seat Beat: Pageant coaches, ‘post-truth’ Othello and Jason Alexander in the director’s seat

The 99-Seat Beat: Pageant coaches, ‘post-truth’ Othello and Jason Alexander in the director’s seat
Julanne Chidi Hill and Matthew Wilkas star in Celebration Theatre's "Born to Win.” (Matthew Brian Denman)

“Born to Win,” a riotous farce set in the dog-eat-dog world of child beauty pageants, and “The Joy Wheel” a broadly humorous take on a marriage in crisis, lead offerings from L.A.’s small-theater scene this week. At A Noise Within you’ll find Shakespeare’s “Othello” set in present day, and at Boston Court you can see a reexamination of Oscar Wilde’s fall from grace. Here’s the rundown:

Celebration Theatre’s ‘Born to Win’

The essentials: Overbearing Bobby and downtrodden Bob — a gay couple for whom the worm is about to turn — are pageant coaches who have groomed Chevrolet to a state of pre-pubescent perfection. The little girl (personified by pageant dresses, thrown around the stage with abusive abandon) is the daughter of wealthy Southern belle Pinky, who uses Chevrolet to redress the ghosts of her own horrible childhood. When shabby Marge bursts onto the pageant circuit with her moppet Puddle, power bases are disrupted, relationships unravel and mental breakdowns ensue.

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Why this? Director Michael Matthews, whose recent production of “Cabaret” was a hit for the Celebration, turns to lighter fare with this farcical, no-holds-barred romp by Mark Setlock and Matthew Wilkas. (Wilkas also stars in dual roles.) Look for no deep meaning or cosmic revelations; over-the-top camp is the order of the evening. And when it comes to camp, Drew Droege, whose drag turn in “Die, Mommie, Die!” delighted at the Douglas last year, should split sides as Bobby, a domineering diva in full meltdown.

Details: Celebration Theatre at the Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 31 (no performance Feb. 24). $25-$35. (323) 957-1884, celebrationtheatre.com

Matthew Wilkas, left, and Drew Droege in the Celebration Theatre production of “Born to Win” at the Lex in Hollywood.
Matthew Wilkas, left, and Drew Droege in the Celebration Theatre production of “Born to Win” at the Lex in Hollywood. (Matthew Brian Denman)

Ruskin Group’s ‘The Joy Wheel’

The essentials: Under the influence of his fanatical pal Stew, Frank has converted his backyard pool into an underground survivalist bunker, much to the dismay of his wife of 30 years, Stella. She wants her pool back. After watching Stella triumph in a community theater production of “The Vagina Tales,” Frank reconsiders restoring the pool – but may find that Stew won’t give up his alt-right bastion without a fight.

Why this? Ian McRae’s new comedy has a measure of unexpected darkness that elevates the proceedings above mere sitcom. Put the broadness aside and “Wheel” could be more widely construed as a parable about societal divisions. Leading the production is Jason Alexander, a prolific director of late, who says the play “feels like a reflection of what so many people are experiencing in these divisive, uncivil times.” After playing George Costanza for nine seasons on “Seinfeld,” he seems likely to invest “Wheel” with the keen comic timing it requires.

Details: Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 24. $35. (310) 397-3244. ruskingrouptheatre.com

Lee Garlington, left, and Gina Hecht in Ruskin Group's "The Joy Wheel."
Lee Garlington, left, and Gina Hecht in Ruskin Group's "The Joy Wheel." (Ed Krieger)

A Noise Within’s ‘Othello’

The essentials: Passion and betrayal fuel Shakespeare’s tragedy about a Moorish general driven to paranoiac rage by a cunning ensign who convinces him of his blameless wife’s faithlessness.

Why this? Over nearly 30 years, A Noise Within has established itself as a premiere repertory company. Director Jessica Kubzansky has plied her trade for nearly as long, with a laundry list of awards attesting to a career well spent. In program notes, Kubzansky says she has chosen a modern-day setting for Shakespeare’s tragedy because of its implications for a “post-truth era.”

Details: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Runs in repertory; see website for schedule. Ends April 28. Single tickets from $25. (626) 356-3121. anoisewithin.org

Michael Manuel, left, Wayne T. Carr and Angela Gulner of A Noise Within's production of "Othello."
Michael Manuel, left, Wayne T. Carr and Angela Gulner of A Noise Within's production of "Othello." (Daniel Reichert)

Boston Court’s ‘The Judas Kiss’

The essentials: After losing his first trial for criminal libel, Oscar Wilde faces imminent arrest unless he flees the country, as everyone urges him to do. Everyone, that is, except his young lover, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, who exhorts Wilde to fight to clear both their names — disastrous advice Wilde heeds. Act 2 commences in Italy, after Wilde has just been released from two years of hard labor. There, broken and destitute, he faces a final indignity — and a final betrayal.

Why this? David Hare is an incisive social critic whose works expose systemic inequities through psychologically complex characters. In “Kiss,” Wilde seems deceptively passive, mired in inaction and indecision. Yet Hare’s play is essentially a star-crossed love story, with Wilde as the ill-fated hero whose tragic flaw is his enduring ardor for the feckless Bosie. Director Michael Michetti and star Rob Nagle are seasoned veterans well equipped to unearth the emotional intricacies underlying Wilde’s brittle public persona.

Details: Boston Court Pasadena, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 24. Additional performances 2 p.m. March 2 and 8 p.m. March 18. $20-$39 ($5 on March 2). (626) 683-6801, bostoncourtpasadena.org

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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