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99 Seat Beat: A cannibal musical, Paul Rodriguez's existential steambath, a Southern Gothic tale and more

99 Seat Beat: A cannibal musical, Paul Rodriguez's existential steambath, a Southern Gothic tale and more
Jocelyn Towne and Deborah Puette in Antaeus Theatre Company’s revival of “The Little Foxes” by Lillian Helman. (Geoffrey Wade Photography)

The only overtly Halloweeny production on this week’s selection of off-the-beaten track SoCal theater offerings is “Silence! The Musical,” a spoof of “Silence of the Lambs.” But the three others — “The Little Foxes” at Antaeus; “Steambath” at the Odyssey and “Vietgone” at East West Players — may be more appropriate to the season than a first glance suggests. What is Halloween, after all, but a collective effort to contend with the past, to flush the ghouls out of the dark corners of our memories and lay them back to rest? A similar impulse lies at the heart of playwriting. We just can’t resist a haunted house.

“The Little Foxes” at Antaeus Theatre Company

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The essentials: Lillian Helman’s scheming anti-heroine Regina Hubbard has attracted actresses such as Tallulah Bankhead, Elizabeth Taylor, Anne Bancroft, Stockard Channing, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney to previous productions of “The Little Foxes” (1939). Antaeus’ revival stars Deborah Puette, a local critics’ darling with a compelling combination of fragility and steel. Set in 1900 in Alabama, “Foxes” remains timely, says Puette, adding, “I think [audiences are] going to draw a pretty clear line between the Hubbards and another family that is in the forefront of most of our minds these days.”

Why this? Southern Gothic, fascinated by the dark truths that fester behind society’s genteel facades, is one of the most macabre literary genres. Director Cameron Watson, who happens to be from Tennessee, proved his flair for the tradition with his award-winning “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at Antaeus two seasons ago. Foxes have claws and teeth too; get ready.

Details: Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays. Ends Dec. 10. $35. (818) 506-1983 or antaeus.org.

Paul Rodriguez, foreground, plays God/the bath attendant, with DJ Kemp and Devan Schooled in Bruce Jay Friedman’s “Steambath” at the Odyssey.
Paul Rodriguez, foreground, plays God/the bath attendant, with DJ Kemp and Devan Schooled in Bruce Jay Friedman’s “Steambath” at the Odyssey. (Enci Box)

“Steambath” at the Odyssey

The essentials: In 1970, in this hit comedy, Bruce Jay Friedman (who later wrote “Splash” along with a lot of other films, novels and plays) envisioned the afterlife as a steam room and God its Puerto Rican bath attendant. At the time, the notion that God could be a member of an ethnic minority struck audiences as one of the wackiest aspects of Friedman’s risqué metaphysical romp. Praising Hector Elizondo, who originated the part (and won a Obie Award), New York Times critic Clive Barnes marveled, “He almost convinced me that God is a Puerto Rican steambath attendant.”

Why this? Some of “Steambath’s” jokes, unabashedly trading in hoary ethnic and gender stereotypes, haven’t held up well. But the Odyssey’s longtime artistic director Ron Sossi found something in Friedman’s playful vision worth re-exploring. The acclaimed stand-up comedian Paul Rodriguez plays God. Does this piece of cultural history have anything to teach us, or will we regret digging it up? There’s only one way to find out.

Details: Odyssey Theatre, 255 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A.. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (see website for complete schedule). Ends Dec. 16. $32-$37. (310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or odysseytheatre.com.

Sylvia Kwan and Paul Yen in Qui Nguyen’s "Vietgone" at East West Players.
Sylvia Kwan and Paul Yen in Qui Nguyen’s "Vietgone" at East West Players. (Michael Lamont)

“Vietgone” at East West Players

The essentials: Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone” is a local hero: Nguyen developed the award-winning script, about Vietnamese refugees who meet at an Arkansas relocation camp in the 1970s, at South Coast Repertory. The meta-theatrical, irreverent, touching love story has had successful productions in New York and Chicago. East West Players, the longest-running theater of color in the country, hosts its West Coast homecoming with an L.A. premiere.

Why this? As much as we talk about diversity these days, American theater still hasn’t shaken the assumption that plays should be about white people. Writing about Asian American characters, from an Asian American perspective, is regarded as a well-intentioned but not especially market-savvy enterprise. “Vietgone’s” success suggests that it’s long past time to lay this assumption to rest. Nguyen described it in an interview in American Theatre magazine as “the anti-‘Miss Saigon.’ I don’t mean that it’s contradictory to the musical or even a reaction to it, but it’s about the Asian-American characters being the ones with agency over the narrative. They’re not a prop for the typical straight-white-male lead to learn from or to save. It’s not their story. It’s our story. We get to be the heroes.”

The details: 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 11. $40-$60. (213) 625-7000 or eastwestplayers.secure.force.com/ticket.

Jesse Merlin as Hannibal Lecter and Amanda Conlon as Clarice Starling in “Silence! The Musical” at Let Live Theatre.
Jesse Merlin as Hannibal Lecter and Amanda Conlon as Clarice Starling in “Silence! The Musical” at Let Live Theatre. (Peter Flanigan)

Let Live Theatre’s “Silence! The Musical”

The essentials: Charles Isherwood described this cult hit in the New York Times in 2011 as “an exuberantly gross spoof.” “Silence!” is definitely not for the easily offended. It goes after “The Silence of the Lambs” like a bratty little brother, lovingly lobbing the crudest of projectiles at the Oscar-winning film’s pretensions and excesses. Not content simply to reenact lurid moments, “Silence!” spins each into an elaborate aria, often filthy but undeniably fun. An earlier L.A. production in 2012 won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award for Musical Score.

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Why this? If you love “Silence of the Lambs,” you’ll still love it after “Silence!” But it will be a darker love, tinged with new awareness of the fallibility of men and gods. Bass-baritone Jesse Merlin, who is quickly becoming a local horror musical aficionado — he played an unforgettable Dr. Hill in the campy “Re-Animator the Musical” — stars as Hannibal Lecter.

The details: Let Live Theatre (at the Actors Company), 916 N. Formosa Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Nov. 3. $35. bucketlisttheatre.com.

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