Fantasy can inspire, console and sustain us. It can also trap us in distracting, even dangerous, dream worlds. The 99-Seat Beat’s small-theater picks this week are all about people getting caught up in fantasy, whether building feminist utopias (“Herland” in the Fairfax district), refusing to accept mortality (“Exit the King” in Santa Monica), hanging out with imaginary rabbits (“Harvey” in Laguna Beach) and becoming porn actors (“Shooting Star” in Hollywood). Are their fantasies healthy or unhealthy? The answer is never as straightforward as we might expect.
‘Herland’ at Greenway Court
The essentials: A gay college-bound teen waiting for the right moment to come out lands an unusual summer internship helping three 70-something women design their own retirement community in Grace McLeod’s comedy “Herland.” The team’s garage office — the abandoned man-cave of a Springsteen cover band — suggests a soundtrack for women’s various journeys of self-realization and self-acceptance.
Why this? Chosen by the National New Play Network for a rolling premiere, “Herland” has been produced in San Diego and Chicago, where it earned comparisons to “The Golden Girls,” “Grace and Frankie” and countless other TV comedies about older women — oh, wait, there are just those two. McLeod, who at 23 is the youngest NNPN playwright yet, says she learned a lot from the first two stagings of “Herland,” lessons she hopes will result in “a joyous and unapologetically queer final production” at Greenway Court.
The details: Greenway Court Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 23. $20-$34. (323) 673-0544 or greenwaycourttheatre.org
‘Harvey’ in Laguna Beach
The essentials: French Stewart (“3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Mom”) and his wife, writer, singer and actress Vanessa Claire Stewart (“Louis and Keely: ‘Live’ at the Sahara”), are becoming the Lunt and Fontanne of L.A. theater. To their popular local collaborations — “Stoneface” at Sacred Fools and Pasadena Playhouse, “Finks” at Rogue Machine — they add this Laguna Playhouse revival of Mary Chase’s 1944 play “Harvey.” French stars as an amiable alcoholic who refuses to believe that his best friend, a 6-foot-tall rabbit, is imaginary; Vanessa plays his high-society sister.
Why this? “Harvey” beat out Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” for the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for drama — one of those oft-cited historical glitches that suggest, depending on your point of view, that the system either doesn’t work or works all too well. In his stage performances, French combines deft physical comedy with an endearing melancholy, making him a promising heir to the Stewart (James) who starred in the 1950 movie.
The details: “Harvey,” Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Opens 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays, through June 16. $60-$85. (949) 497-2787 or lagunaplayhouse.com
‘Exit the King’ at City Garage
The essentials: The founders of Santa Monica’s City Garage Theatre, Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe, did their own translation of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist 1962 tragicomedy, “Exit the King,” for this revival starring Troy Dunn as the vainglorious ruler of a disintegrating kingdom.
King Berenger has been in power for more than 400 years, and it’s high time for him to let go of the reins, but nobody except his ex-wife has the guts to tell him so. The play, as Ben Brantley once put it, “spends more than two hours telling theatergoers that they are going to die, like it or not,” and could be seen as “a vaudeville version of the teachings of the death guru Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.”
Why this? A once powerful, now collapsing civilization in the grip of a deranged megalomaniac? Obviously it’s a scenario so implausible today, so far beyond the imaginative capacity of contemporary American audiences that we must treat it as a historical curiosity rather than, say, an urgent and eerily relevant warning.
The details: City Garage Theatre, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through July 14. $20-$25. (310) 453-9939 or citygarage.org
‘Shooting Star’ at Hudson Mainstage
The essentials: Remember the last time you heard unlikely material — “Silence of the Lambs,” maybe, or “The Jerry Springer Show” — had been chosen for musical adaptation? And you asked yourself, “Is there anywhere musical theater will not go these days?” Hudson Theatre’s premiere of a gay porn musical has your answer: No.
Why this? “Shooting Star,” coyly subtitled “A Revealing New Musical,” is based on the career of its book writer, Florian Klein (aka Hans Berlin), who dreamed of being an actor before making a (stage) name for himself in porn. “Looking back, it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made,” Klein has said. For all its lurid trappings — including nudity — this show really is a traditional American musical: a heartwarming tale of misfits who create a community by putting on a show.
The details: Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through June 30. $35. (323) 960-7787 or plays411.com/Star
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our writers 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.