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Entertainment & Arts

New in L.A. theater: Tap-happy ‘Dames at Sea’? Time for ‘Dancing Lessons’

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“Dames at Sea” with Katie Franqueira, center, and, from left, Marissa Mayer, Ruben Bravo, Aaron Shaw and Chuck McLane.
(Gina Long)

Think of Los Angeles-area theater as live Netflix. Any genre you might desire is on offer, including these samplings in the 99-Seat Beat, our weekly theater column: the faux-1930s musical comedy “Dames at Sea”; a re-imagined version of the social drama “An Enemy of the People”; the Latinx LGBTQ short-play festival Brown & Out; and a touching meetup of opposites who are alike in “Dancing Lessons.”

‘Dames at Sea’ in Sierra Madre

The essentials: Ruby arrives in New York City clutching little more than tap shoes and showbiz dreams. There she meets Dick, a Navy man who wants to write songs. Before you know it, they’re using a battleship as their theater.

Why this? “Dames at Sea” was written in the 1960s as a playful send-up/throwback to the featherweight, feel-good movie musicals of the 1930s, going so far as to give its protagonists the same names as Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, the stars of so many of those films. With its high-energy score and madcap characters, it was a long-running hit off-Broadway. Joshua Finkel, who is directing the show for Sierra Madre Playhouse, promises comedy delivered in authentic ’30s style, as well as a whole lot of tap dancing. He’s become expert in delivering a lot with a little. The cast numbers just six, and the stage is postage-stamp size, but everything feels much bigger.

Details: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through July 21. $25-$45. (626) 355-4318, sierramadreplayhouse.org

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‘Enemy of the People’ at Theatricum

The essentials: People in high places plot against a doctor who is about to reveal that the water at the local spa is contaminated, threatening the town’s livelihood. Ellen Geer has freely adapted Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” for Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, relocating the 1882 drama to South Carolina in 1980.

Why this? Ibsen, the father of realistic drama, was a questioner, and Geer, who is Theatricum’s producing artistic director, admires his evenhandedness in this play. There are no clear good guys nor bad guys, she says, just “people trying to make a moral decision in a very complex time.” To recontextualize the Norwegian master’s drama for an American audience, Geer chose the year that launched the Reagan era, with all of the social and economic changes it set in motion. She also reenvisioned the doctor and his wife as a mixed-race couple in a place where state law, though unenforceable, still officially banned interracial marriage. As for safe water, current events — in Flint, Mich., California’s Central Valley and elsewhere — have made the issue newly relevant.

Details: Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Opens Saturday. In repertory various Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays through Sept. 28. $10-$42. (310) 455-3723, theatricum.com

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Katherine Griffith, left, Earnestine Phillips and Christopher W. Jones in "An Enemy of the People."
(Ian Flanders)

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Brown & Out at Casa 0101

The essentials: At Casa 0101’s annual Brown & Out play festival, Latinx LGBTQ writers tell stories that reflect their lives, using specifics to convey what’s universal. The 11 short plays and one short film this year take on such topics as identity, activism, legal status, secrets, trauma, validation, complications of the internet era and the search for romance.

Why this? Casa 0101’s Josefina López says: “Our mission is to nurture the future storytellers of Los Angeles who will somehow transform the world. As an artistic director I’ve always asked: Who’s being left out?” The Brown & Out festival, in its fifth year, is one result. For two years now, the featured works — each about 10 minutes long — have emerged from a Casa playwriting workshop for LGBTQ writers. “Stand in the light, stand in your truth,” López says. And share it.

Details: Casa 0101, 2102 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; ends July 7. $20-$30; $65 VIP package. (323) 263-7684, brownandoutfest.com

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Stevie Vallejo, left, and Devon Torres in "Mija," one of the short plays presented as part of Brown & Out.
(Ed Krieger)

‘Dancing Lessons’ by Ensemble Theatre Company

The essentials: “Go away!” she yells. This could be the start a beautiful friendship. Ever Montgomery, a science professor, and Senga Quinn, a professional dancer, live two floors apart in a New York apartment building. They meet when Ever shows up at Senga’s door with a request. He’d like to learn enough social dance to avoid embarrassment at a dinner where he’s being feted. Would she teach him?

Why this? Playwright Mark St. Germain has a knack for illustrating the unlikely connections among people, as demonstrated in “Camping With Henry and Tom” (Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and President Warren G. Harding) and “Freud’s Last Stand” (Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis). In “Dancing Lessons,” Ever has Asperger’s syndrome, which makes social interaction difficult; Senga is deeply depressed after a potentially career-ending injury. His arrival at her door could be just what both need. The play has racked up positive reviews since its premiere five years ago in Massachusetts. Ensemble Theatre Company is in the midst of a hot streak with recent plays including “Everything Is Illuminated,” “The Legend of Georgia McBride” and “City of Conversation.”

Details: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; ends June 30. $25-$75. (805) 965-5400, etcsb.org

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Ensemble Theatre Co. - “Dancing Lessons” dress 6/12/19 The New Vic Theatre
Leilani Smith and Trevor Peterson in "Dancing Lessons."
(David Bazemore)

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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