With the fall season ramping up, the 99-Seat Beat column is back with the best bets for promising shows on the small-theater scene.
“American Saga — Gunshot Medley: Part 1” at Rogue Machine at the MET Theatre and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee Theatre
The Essentials: The 23-year-old playwright Dionna Michelle Daniel sets her precociously poetic play in an old cemetery in the “Hereafter,” where three long-dead African American slaves, overseen by a mysterious High Priestess, gradually reveal the nature of their torturous fates on Earth.
Why this? Although set in a supernatural milieu, Daniel’s allegorical tale subtly addresses not only past racial atrocities but also the present-day scourge of police violence against African Americans. Director Desean Kevin Terry observes that the play “exists outside the boundaries of time, which allows us to observe not only present day impacts of violence committed against the African American community but the history of violence and the notion of historical trauma.” The production, Rogue Machine’s final production at the MET before moving to Venice’s Electric Lodge, features live music and an alternating cast that includes Obie-winner Cherise Boothe (“Milk Like Sugar”).
Details: The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays; 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 23. $40. Starting Oct. 5 at the WLCAC Theatre, 10950 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 14. $35. Pay what you can for local audience at the door. (855) 585-5185. www.roguemachinetheatre.com
“Martians – An Evening with Ray Bradbury” at Whitefire Theatre
The essentials: Co-writers Charlie Mount and Jeff G. Rack have based their new play from Bradbury’s writings, personal interviews and short stories. From the setting of his home office, Bradbury, played by Mount, is captured in the process of writing four of his beloved Martian tales, shortened here into brisk mini-plays that retain the flavor of the originals. As the omniscient narrator, Bradbury meanders freely between outer space and his own past as he invents his stories “from scratch.”
Why this? One of literature’s great enthusiasts, Bradbury eloquently expounded on the writing process throughout his career. Freely sampling from Bradbury’s fiction, as well as his rich trove of personal anecdotes, Mount and Rack offer an entertaining glimpse into what it takes to create. As Bradbury observed to Mount, a personal friend, “Don’t think. Just start writing. Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” Veteran set designer Rack, a major contributor to the popular Wicked Lit series, directs.
Details: Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Fridays through Nov. 2. Also 8 p.m. Saturday Nov. 10. Ends Nov. 10. (800) 838-3006. www.whitefiretheatre.com
“Swansong” at the Skylight
The essentials: Conor McDermottroe’s monodrama, later adapted into a film, traces the fortunes of Austin “Occi” Byrne, a brawling, brain-damaged young Irish man, as he reflects back on his deprived and violent past.
Why this? Raised in the slums by an alcoholic single mother, the casually brutal, always irrepressible Occi has been vividly brought to life by McDermottroe, who exposes the seamy underbelly that spawned his surprisingly engaging monster. André de Vanny, who originated the role in Australia to considerable acclaim, reprises his performance for this West Coast premiere. Greg Caroll directs this co-production of the Australian Theatre Company and Skylight Theatre Company.
Details: Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. Mondays. Ends Oct. 7. $15-$32. (866) 811-4111. atctix.org or SkylightTix.com
“Time Stands Still” at the Lounge Theatre
The Essentials: In this Pulitzer-nominated play, emotionally traumatized freelance journalist James and photojournalist Sarah — who has sustained near-fatal injuries from a roadside bomb — return home from Iraq to face their own domestic upheavals, including ideological differences that doom their long-term relationship. An old friend and his far younger girlfriend complicate an already fraught situation.
Why this? Thrice Pulitzer-nominated, once a winner — for “Dinner With Friends” in 2000 — Donald Margulies is a modern-day moralist who charts the emotional shifts among complex characters in ethical crisis. Social justice-minded Sarah and James examine their motives with a brutal insight that leaves little leeway for easy rationalization. Margulies also defies the obvious in his take on Mandy, a seemingly shallow event planner with surprising depths.
Details: The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 30. $25. (800) 838-3006. https://timestandsstill.brownpapertickets.com
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.