P.G. Wodehouse nailed it when he wrote “Unseen in the background, Fate was quietly slipping lead into the boxing glove.” The puckish, woeful machinations of Fate — that lightning event that changes the course of destiny, the happy coincidence that smooths the path to romance — fuel this week’s eclectic selection of plays. There’s a wrenchingly realistic Pulitzer winner about disabled people and their caregivers, and two wildly alternative plays that recast women from ancient history and Greek myth into modern-day settings. There’s even a reprise of a 1960s musical set at Christmastime, in case you’re jonesing for an early holiday pick-me-up. Whether you’re in a thoughtful or purely escapist mood, there’s something to pique any theatrical appetite.
‘Bliss (or Emily Post Is Dead!),’ Moving Arts at Atwater Village Theatre
The essentials: Jami Brandli’s splendidly imaginative play transforms tragic Greek heroines into 1960-era New Jerseyites with man problems. Bitter, pill-popping Clementine (Clytemnestra) has a lethal score to settle with her brutish husband. Shunted aside by her philandering spouse, domestic diva Maddy (a.k.a. Medea) spectacularly snaps, while 17-year-old Antonia (a.k.a. Antigone) must escape her suffocating uncle to pursue her true but fatal love. Meanwhile, agonizingly omniscient Cassandra tries to break the curse put on her by the god Apollo and alter the events that have doomed her and her ill-fated counterparts unto the generations.
Why this? “Bliss” ran in San Diego to rave reviews — for obvious reasons. Recently named one of the Humanitas Prize PLAY LA Playwrights for 2018-19, Brandli is very much a talent to be followed, and “Bliss,” the first in her planned four-play “reclaimed Greek myth cycle,” is a gem that warrants wider viewing. Although her female characters seem initially comic, Brandli does not blunt their tragic proportions, and the 1960 setting is an inspired choice that emphasizes their limited options and restrictions — the same issues confronted by their Greek predecessors hundreds of years ago. Brandli disguises her political pungency with comedy — the perfect medium to massage an important message across the footlights.
Details: Moving Arts at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Additional performance Nov. 27 at 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 2. $30. (323) 472-5646. www.movingarts.org
‘Cost of Living,’ Fountain Theatre
The essentials: Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for drama, Martyna Majok’s slice-of-life play takes us behind the scenes of two “differently abled” individuals and their caregivers. Unemployed long-haul trucker Eddie struggles to cope with the fallout from his estranged wife Ani’s disastrous accident, which has left her quadriplegic. Wealthy, privileged John, who has cerebral palsy and requires special care, develops a fragile bond with his aide, Jess, a first-generation have-not whose labors for her most basic needs ironically mirror John’s physical struggles. When their stories unexpectedly collide, “Cost” comes full circle, ending on a delicate and cathartic hint of hopefulness.
Why this? Defying easy sentiment and conventional expectations, Majok shatters stereotypes with her characters, who are drawn with such truth and specificity that they evoke a frisson of voyeuristic unease. Showered with awards and accolades over the decades, the Fountain has become the West Coast home to world-class playwrights, such as renowned South African master Athol Fugard and the Fountain’s own founding member, Stephen Sachs. Scoring the West Coast premiere of Majok’s extraordinary drama is yet another in a long line of coups for this venerable company, while veteran director John Vreeke’s involvement also bodes well for this production.
Details: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. Mondays. Ends Dec. 16. $25-$45. (323) 663-1525. www.FountainTheatre.com
‘She Loves Me,’ Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre
The essentials: Surrounded by a colorful coterie of co-workers, two comically bickering shop clerks in 1930s Hungary find a respite from their humdrum lives in an epistolary romance with pen pals they have never actually met. Of course, they later realize that their mysterious mutual admirers are none other than each other, and that all of their abrasive interactions were just the preliminaries to their own slowly simmering love story.
Why this? Miklós László’s 1937 play “Parfumerie” has given rise to numerous adaptations, most notably Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 film “The Shop Around the Corner,” a deft delight that has become a Christmas perennial. Only modestly received in its 1963 production, this musical has won multiple Tonys in its various incarnations, including a blockbuster 2016 Broadway revival that established its durable appeal for modern-day audiences. Savvy veteran of stage, screen and television, director-choreographer Cate Caplin helms the production, which promises a refreshing plunge into pure nostalgia.
Details: Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower Hollywood. (On the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.) 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 16. $39. (323) 462-8460. www.ActorsCo-op.org
‘Cleo, Theo & Wu,’ Theatre of NOTE
The essentials: In Kirsten Vangsness’ world premiere, directionless Lucy is entrusted with the fate of the universe by a group of prominent women of past history, while a genderless space creature with a feminist bent takes her careening through time and space. No heroine in the Joseph Campbell mold, the comically distracted Lucy routinely retreats into her comfort zones of food, sex, and the pursuit of money. Will Lucy ever awaken to the wonders around her and embrace her destiny as “the one”?
Why this? A company known for championing new works, NOTE has been in the vanguard of local experimental theater for almost 40 years. No exception to the company’s penchant for risky new works, Vangsness’ mind-bendingly nonlinear and experimental piece skips along the surface of reality while making some surprisingly cogent philosophical points. With her long list of illustrious credits, director Lisa Dring seems the ideal interpreter to corral Vangsness’ cheeky stream-of consciousness into a comprehensible format.