The 99-Seat Beat: A black ‘Antigone,’ classic August Wilson and an Actors’ Gang ‘Anarchist’
A radically revisionist “Antigone” made in the Black Lives Matter era seems the ideal vehicle to launch us into Black History Month and lead our weekly look at L.A.’s theater scene. Other picks include the Actors’ Gang production of “ Accidental Death of an Anarchist” by Dario Fo and the Matrix Theatre’s guest production of “Two Trains Running” by August Wilson — two master craftsmen operating from opposite ends of the theatrical spectrum — plus the prickly romance that is “Heisenberg.”
‘Love Is Another Country’ at VS.
The essentials: Gonee (Dee Dee Stephens), a highly educated African American woman, is driven to the edge of sanity by the death of her brother, left lying on the ground for hours by the police who apparently killed him. When Gonee shoots a policeman in a maddened rage, she is imprisoned with no hope of release. Visitors during her confinement include her deceased great-grandmother Ethel May (Tyree Marshall) and her sister Nene (Celia Mandela Rivera), incorporeal presences whose conversations with Gonee contribute to the hallucinatory atmosphere.
Why this? Lisa Marie Rollins’ nonlinear sampling of Sophocles’ “Antigone” is a racially charged feminist parable. A co-production of the well-established VS. Theatre and the emerging company Coin & Ghost, which is dedicated to “remixed mythologies,” this four-person world premiere blends mysticism, ritual and the supernatural into a drama that emphasizes the plight of African American women in an unjust justice system. Director Kendall Johnson was drawn to what he called “women who are left behind after a tragic encounter with the state.”
Details: VS. Theatre, 5453 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. $25-$30 or pay what you can. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays; ends March 2. Additional performances 8 p.m. Feb. 21 and 28. No performance Feb. 15. coinandghost.org/liac
‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’
The essentials: With a judge due to arrive at the police station to investigate the alleged accidental death of an anarchist in custody, a cunning Maniac — ironically, the most mentally cogent character in the play — adopts a succession of disguises to gull the authorities and expose their corruption and stupidity.
Why this? The late Dario Fo based his 1970 play on the real-life case of an accused bomber who supposedly jumped from a window while in police custody. Fo’s blistering indictment of corruption is more frequently played for farce than for its political subtexts, but considering the Actors’ Gang’s track record, one suspects that this production will skew toward the latter. Artistic Director Tim Robbins, who knew Fo, has said the work “stands in defiance of fascism. At a time when authoritarian governments are being supported by our president, and the judiciary is being corrupted … this play resonates as if it was written yesterday.”
Details: The Actors’ Gang Theatre, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through March 9. Also 2 p.m. Feb. 17, Feb. 24 and March 3. (310) 838-4264, TheActorsGang.com
‘Two Trains Running’ at the Matrix
The essentials: Once the proprietor of a bustling diner, Memphis is barely holding on in Pittsburgh’s blighted Hill District, where the funeral parlor across the way is booming, buoyed by the rocketing murder rate. It’s 1969 and transformation is in the wind, with an urban renewal project underway and black power protests erupting on the sidewalks right outside Memphis’ sleepy establishment. For the few struggling regulars who make up Memphis’ offbeat family, loss and disappointment seem inevitable — until some unexpected hopefulness.
Why this? Producer Sophina Brown intends to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s American Century Cycle, a magnificent outpouring that charts the African American experience throughout the 1900s. Brown launched her ambitious project last season with a critically lauded “King Hedley II.” Director Michele Shay, who helmed “Hedley,” played Louise in the 1996 Broadway premiere of Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” a performance that earned her a Tony nomination.
Details: Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 3. $35. (855) 326-9945, AugustWilsonsTwoTrainsRunning.eventbrite.com
‘Heisenberg’ at Rubicon
The essentials: When hyper, mercurial, 40-something Georgie impulsively kisses the neck of a complete stranger — the deceptively staid, 70ish butcher Alex — in a London train station, the stage is set for a peculiar romance that spans continents. Vividly contrasting characters are the engine of the play.
Why this? Prolific playwright Simon Stephens, whose adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” won a Tony, has a knack for the offbeat. “Heisenberg” opened in New York in 2016 to rave reviews, then toured nationally in 2017. Now the quirky two-hander provides a dream opportunity for Rubicon regulars Joe Spano (“Hill Street Blues,” “NCIS”) and costar Faline England to unearth the humor and pathos in Stephens’ tale.
Details: Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura. 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Feb. 17. $25-$55. (805) 667-2900, RubiconTheatre.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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