Life on the edge is the theme that binds rare-book scavengers, puppet quests, risqué comedy and high-wire improv in this week’s selections from some of L.A.’s adventurous smaller theaters.
‘Forever Bound’ at Atwater Village
The essentials: Who knew the rare-book biz could be life-threatening? Steve Apostolina’s darkly comic new caper descends into the shady world of book scouts — scavengers who comb the bargain bins for overlooked treasures and resell them to wealthy collectors. A financially desperate, particularly inept scout reduced to taking odd jobs gets lured into an attempted robbery scheme, only to find himself in the middle of a far more sinister crime involving kidnapping, sexual abuse and, of course, book collecting. Sprinkled with shocking twists and sharply funny dialogue, this one sits at the thematic intersection of “American Buffalo,” “The Tempest” and “Pygmalion.”
Why this? The piece was co-developed with two of L.A.’s most committed theatrical incubators, the Road Theatre and Antaeus Playwrights Lab. Ann Hearn Tobolowsky directs a veteran cast: French Stewart, Rob Nagle, Emily Goss and playwright Apostolina himself.
Details: A Sankalpa Productions play at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Monday, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends June 16. $25–$35. (323) 960-4429, www.plays411.com/foreverbound
‘Wood Boy Dog Fish’ at Garry Marshall
The essentials: A mischievous puppet discovers that being human is not all it’s cracked up to be in Rogue Artist Ensemble’s stylishly macabre re-imagining of the Pinocchio tale. In what Times reviewer F. Kathleen Foley called in her 2015 review “not so much a play as a theatrical bombardment,” the staging employs puppetry, masks, music, lighting, special effects and a magic trick or two to explore the darker, more adult themes inspired by Carlo Collodi’s original novel.
Why this? Wildly imaginative staging defines the unique “hyper-theater” signature of the Rogues, a collective led by multidisciplinary artists and designers rather than the typical membership company hierarchy of actors, writers or directors. Since the play’s 2015 debut at the Bootleg Theater, Artistic Director Sean T. Cawelti and his team have further developed and expanded it for this new venue, promising an experience even more dangerous and immersive. Playwright Chelsea Sutton’s updated script incorporates new and reworked scenes and strengthened character arcs to deepen the narrative, and composer Adrien Prévost has added songs to his haunting score.
Details: A Rogue Artists Ensemble production at Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank. In previews now, opens May 18. Performances 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays; ends June 24. $45–$65. (818) 955-8101, www.garrymarshalltheatre.org/wood-boy-dog-fish
‘Sex’ at the Hudson Theatre
The essentials: A comedy about a hooker with an independent mind and a heart of gold may sound like a tired premise these days, but in 1927 it was edgy enough to earn an obscenity arrest and eight days in the slammer for its author, a former vaudeville comic named Mae West. Nevertheless, “Sex” turned out to be longest-running play of that Broadway season; its notoriety catapulted West’s career, leading to her boast that she had “climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.”
Why this? The show is directed by Sirena Irwin, a talented comic whose accomplishments include a memorable turn as Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy Live on Stage” at the Greenway Court Theatre. The starring role that West wrote for herself is performed by Buzzworks founder Andrea Hutchman; the show's male lead, Wayne Wilderson, also can be seen as Wayne on HBO’s "Veep" and Principal Gibbons on the Fox series "The Mick."
Details: A Buzzworks production at the Hudson Theatre Main Stage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, ends June 17. $30. (323) 856-4249, dime.io/events/buzzworks-sex
‘Dorothy Parker UnScripted’ at the Broad Stage
The essentials: When it comes to treading the razor’s edge, performing without a script can terrify even the most seasoned actor. L.A.’s Impro Theatre adds an additional layer of risk by improvising shows in the signature style of a famous playwright, genre or composer — think Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim or, as in the upcoming shows, the Roaring ’20s of sharp-tongued author Dorothy Parker. A rotating cast will draw on audience suggestions to create three unique performances, with no pre-planning or prepared scenarios.
Why this? Since 1988, Impro Theatre (formerly Los Angeles Theatresports) has honed a narrative style distinct from more familiar sketch comedy formats. This production is directed by Jo McGinley (“Twilight Zone UnScripted”) and Paul Rogan (“Jane Austen UnScripted”). This show an ideal companion piece to “The Dorothy Parker Project,” the dramatized biographical portrait and short stories currently running at Pacific Resident Theatre.
Details: An Impro Theatre production at the Edye at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. May 18-19, 2 p.m. May 20. $45. (310) 434-3200, thebroadstage.org/improtheatreparker
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.
For the Record
9:55 a.m.: This article has been updated to correct a “Forever Bound” cast member’s name. It's Emily Goss, not Gross.