Questions of gender and identity drive headlines daily, so it’s only natural to find the topic taking center stage in our theaters. With emotional tones ranging from light to dark, this week’s 99-Seat Beat selections all spotlight women stepping outside stereotypes and society’s expectations, whether the context is a Broadway musical (“Sister Act”), a romantic comedy set in Edwardian London (“Diana of Dobson’s”) or Shakespeare (“The Taming of the Shrew” and “Macbeth”).
‘Sister Act’ at Casa 0101
The essentials: Get thee to a nunnery — or perish. So goes the witness protection commandment. Undercover protective custody turns a jaded nightclub singer from sinner to saint-ish hero in the Casa 0101 revival of “Sister Act, the Musical.” Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield (Ovation Award winner for Celebration Theatre’s “The Color Purple”) plays the mob-endangered murder witness who transforms a timid, third-rate choir into a crowd-drawing powerhouse, thereby saving their financially foundering church (and her soul) in the process. The musical adaptation of the Whoopi Goldberg film sets the action in 1970s Philadelphia, with an appropriately disco-heavy, funk- and R&B-flavored score by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater that helps to spread the gospel of female empowerment.
Why this? The Boyle Heights theater Casa 0101 has been providing quality arts programs since its founding in 2000 by playwright Josefina López (“Real Women Have Curves”). The company’s increased focus on musical programming has included critically acclaimed productions of “In the Heights” and “Beauty and the Beast,” both directed by Rigo Tejeda, who helms this production.
Details: Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. 1st St., L.A. 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; ends May 19. $50 ($35 for children and Boyle Heights residents). (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org
‘Diana of Dobson’s’ at Antaeus
The essentials: Antaeus Theatre Company finds timely relevance in this unfairly neglected 1908 romantic comedy by Cicely Hamilton, an early British feminist and suffragette crusader. When an impoverished Dobson’s Department Store shopgirl unexpectedly inherits a modest fortune, she faces a kind of “Dobson’s Choice”: Budget the funds to sustain a dull but marginally better lifestyle, or indulge in a monthlong vacation at a Swiss resort. She selects the 1% option, and, posing as a high-born socialite in a foreshadowing of Eliza Doolittle, she meets cute with a charming but lackadaisical former guardsman who coasts through life.
Why this? In her time, Hamilton ranked alongside her friend and colleague George Bernard Shaw with her skillful writing and keenly observed social commentary. Despite its comic format, her play tackles serious issues concerning Edwardian class barriers and the de facto indentured servitude imposed on women of no independent means. This period piece is well suited to Antaeus’ stable of classically trained performers.
Details: An Antaeus production at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends June 3. $35. (818) 506-1983, antaeus.org
‘Taming of the Shrew’ by Porters of Hellsgate
The essentials: Hard-won domestic bliss was always the satisfying payoff to “The Taming of the Shrew,” but the chauvinistic landmines deeply buried in Shakespeare’s battle-of-the-sexes comedy are tougher than ever to navigate. Porters of Hellsgate Theatre Company in North Hollywood sets out to avoid even implicit endorsement of male domination by incorporating gender-reversed casting in the principal roles — without changing the text, the characters’ names or even their pronouns. Gender stereotypes are neatly sidestepped with a female Petrucchio (Lauren Jean Lee), the wily aggressor in pursuit of a defiant male Kate (Sean Faye).
Why this? It marks the 28th production in the Porters of Hellsgate’s mission to present the Bard’s 38-play canon. This reframing of “Shrew” shifts the focus from a masculine versus feminine conflict to an exploration of the imbalance of power. Co-directors Rose Fliegel and Alicia Patterson said they want to confront these issues with a comedic show portraying how power politics affect the dynamics of a dysfunctional love story. At the heart of this play, they said, everyone is learning how to listen and love better.
Details: A Porters of Hellsgate production at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 W. Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; end May 19. Also 7 p.m. April 21 and May 12. $30. portersofhellsgate.com
‘Macbeth’ at Loft Ensemble
The essentials: Here’s another gender-scrambled take on Shakespeare co-directed by women. Loft Ensemble’s version of the Scottish Play features a female Macbeth and an even bolder element: Vikings! Inspired by the historical context of Shakespeare’s source — specifically, the significant presence and political impact of Vikings in Scotland and England during the time of the real Macbeth — co-directors Bree Pavey and Emma Latimer discovered instances in the play that suggest a cultural symbiosis. For example, in the original text the prophetic supernatural trio of witches were called “Wyrd Sisters”; in Norse, “Wyrd” refers to the strings of fate woven by three Norns responsible for all the destinies of the world. Leaning in to the wyrdness, the staging incorporates Nordic design themes into sets, costumes and sound, and it sports some chanting and grumbling in Old Norse.
Why this? At the core of this production is the Norse ideology that tolerated women and men functioning as equals in many aspects of life (including warfare). Hence, warrior Macbeth, played by Pavey, is a woman, not just a female actor playing a male role, and her relationship to Lady Macbeth (Jennifer Christina DeRosa) is an arrangement built on ambition — combining their strengths to achieve the status and security that go with absolute power.
Details: Loft Ensemble, 13442 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; ends May 27. $20. (818) 616-3150, loftensemble.org
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.
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