The consequences of imperfect communication — say, a conversation among strangers at a roadside bar or the strained discussions between a husband and wife at a crossroads in their marriage — loosely connect this week’s selections from L.A.’s small-theater scene: Taylor Mac’s “Hir” at the Odyssey, “It Is Done” at Theatre 40, “Death House” at the Road on Lankershim and “The Empty Nesters” at the Zephyr.
‘Hir’ at the Odyssey Theatre
The essentials: Just back from three years of cleaning up body parts from roadside bombs, a traumatized Marine returns to startling changes on the home front. His newly liberated mother seems bent on humiliating her once abusive but now helplessly senile spouse, while the veteran’s teenage sister has transitioned into a young man who abets his mother in her hilariously bizarre power games. It’s a trip down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass and over the rainbow — a plunge into a radically reconfigured domestic order that the Marine finds difficult to understand or accept.
Why this? Pulitzer-nominated Taylor Mac, a MacArthur fellow in 2017, is a transgressive artist who specializes in tweaking the established social order, both as a playwright and performer. Mac fuses rage and satire in this Los Angeles premiere, which updates classic absurdist constructs for a new era. Director Bart DeLorenzo, a longtime champion of experimental theater, said, “I love how trans this play is — transgender, of course, but also transcultural, exploring how our American culture will have to adjust for tomorrow. And I love how Taylor Mac has housed these anarchic, revolutionary questions in the most classic form of American drama, the family play.” Audiences may be surprised by how many laughs Mac has packed within the politics.
Details: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 17. Additional performances at 5 p.m. Sunday (but no 2 p.m. show that day) and 8 p.m. Jan. 31, Feb. 20 and March 6 (check for other exceptions). $32-$37. (310) 477-2055, Ext. 2. www.OdysseyTheatre.com
‘It Is Done’ at Theatre 40
The essentials: Two strangers, buffeted by a windstorm that has made travel impossible, take refuge in a rural bar presided over by a lecherous barkeep. As the three engage in seemingly innocuous chat, the male visitor is persuaded to discuss the disturbing dreams that have disrupted his life — a confidence that ultimately leads to the revelation of his dark and secret past. The woman’s true identity, once revealed, gives this slice-of-life bar play an unexpectedly terrifying twist.
Why this? Director Jeff G. Rack, who has led several productions in the spookily immersive Wicked Lit series staged around Halloween in a local cemetery, is also an inspired designer whose recent set for Theatre 40’s “Bus Stop” was Broadway-caliber. He’s a likely bet to have something spine-chilling up his sleeve for this play by Alex Goldberg.
Details: Theatre 40 in the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Plays in repertory with “Rod Serling’s Stories From the Zone.” Call for schedule. $35. (310) 364-0535, www.theatre40.org
‘Death House’ at the Road on Lankershim
The essentials: A chaplain who has spent decades ministering to condemned prisoners passes the mantle of his ministry to a gung-ho replacement as they convene for a death watch with an inscrutable female murderer. As they while away the time awaiting the execution, secrets come to light.
Why this: Under artistic directors Taylor Gilbert and Sam Anderson, the Road has a reputation for scouting out worthy new works, and Jason Karasev’s thoughtful play is certainly no exception. Anderson plays the veteran minister whose enthusiastic support of the death penalty has dwindled into something akin to disgust — an attitude at odds with his strangely eager new replacement. Their intense interaction eventually exposes the shattering social inequity that has made the woman’s fate an almost inevitable conclusion.
Details: The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 10. $34. (818) 761-8838, www.RoadTheatre.org
‘The Empty Nesters’ at Zephyr
The essentials: After dropping off their youngest child at college, Greg and Frances take a road trip to the Grand Canyon’s vertiginous Skywalk, a metaphor for the couple’s troubled marriage. The vacation takes an unforeseen turn when Frances announces that she is considering leaving Greg — a shocker for him. Can they cross their emotional divide or is the chasm between them too broad to broach?
Why this? Garret Jon Groenveld’s character-driven comedy, starring real-life married couple John Walker and Pamela Gaye Walker, is essentially a prolonged conversation between man and wife at a make-or-break juncture. The comically circular dialogue, which captures the gender differences in male-female communication, would do a linguistics scholar proud. Director Richard Seyd’s impressive roster of theater credits also bodes well.
Details: Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 17. $35-$45. (866) 811-4111, www.EmptyNestersPlay.com