"Stooplife" at the Cast-at-the-Circle is a disarming comedy about a half-dozen characters in Hoboken in the early '50s who hang out on a porch stoop. Two female characters, one a stripper and the other a salty mom, hang out of their windows a lot.
Playwright Louis La Russo and director Raymond Martino have created a particularly warm flavor. That's evident in the acting and in an indelible sense of place. The physical texture (Steven T. Howell designed the set and lighting) has the vividness of hot lights on a movie sound stage.
There's hardly a plot, the play has a live dog in it, and there's no conflict worthy of the term. But as a diversion, and as a study in razor-honed timing, this production is almost sublime.
In tone, it reminds you a bit of "My Sister Eileen" overlaid with a touch of Damon Runyon. The plot flutters around an improbable but growing little romance between a dim-headed street cleaner who dreams of being a big-time singer and a peroxide blond, burlesque moll (Tootsie).
Wendy MacDonald, with a tinny voice and a dumb-sexy style, is fetching as the dim blond. John Aprea is gentle and yearning as the simple street cleaner; the actor, however, in speech and looks, doesn't convince that he's dense enough to be the willing butt of jokes by neighborhood toughs.
Ray Abruzzo and Richard Cerenzo etch their teen roles with the precision of the creases in their Levi's cuffs. Robert Gallo uncurls a good facial snarl, and Jean Levine sports a sassy mouth as the other denizens on the stoop of the Hudson.
Performances at 800 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood, Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 7 p.m., through Dec. 21, (213) 462-0265.
Brecht and Weill's opera, "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny," has been plunked down in the saloons of early-day Las Vegas, and updated with video images and a contempo score in "Fun City" at Al's National Theater in the downtown L.A. warehouse district.
The production ensemble (Pirate Theater Productions), in a perfect Brechtian touch, performs on a stage in a fenced-in outdoor parking lot next to the troupe's patron saint, Al's Bar. It gets cold. Occasionally, people in the street yell at the musical. In the beginning "Mahagonny" was met with riots before it became an elitist work. Now it's a riot again.
The Kurt Weill Foundation told the producers they couldn't have adaptation rights but the company decided to go ahead and adapt anyway. Hey, it's Fun City.
In truth, Brecht has not been cannibalized. He has been cleverly used. Director Sean Fenton's staging is strongly Brechtian. Actress/producer Dominique Lowell (she plays a lusty prostitute) was a founding member of the Ann Arbor Brecht Ensemble. And even composer Spider Murphy's American musical idiom complements the Brechtian onslaught. The creators have used Brecht's basic plot line, his theme and some of his characters. No adapter is credited.
The show is ragged, patchy, like burlesque, but the large cast has some talent and it's exuberant. Matthew McDuffie is fiercely dynamic as the leader of a group of miners with money to burn in the desert on booze and women. And Shawn Schepps, as the ferocious Black Widow with the Mae West chest and mouth, has the stable. Vegas (Mahagonny) is born and OD's from overstuffing.
The overripe simulated sexual activity is a raucous visual motif. Brief use of newsreel images on the monitor (we see the death in the ring of a boxer, the Holocaust) don't violate Brecht but they're rather unnecessary.
Performances at 305 S. Hewitt St., Friday, 8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 7 p.m., runs indefinitely, (213) 467-9116.
Look out. Here come the Beckers. The Beckers are a nuclear, rich black family living in manicured Baldwin Hills, and can they fight. Vintage black pride and money and incest and love and hate go hand in hand here. It's the stuff of a black prime-time adult soap. Nobody's dozing at Theater of Arts where playwright-director Stanley Bennett Clay's "Rituals" draws whoops from the audience.
There's a middle-age alcoholic wife and an "Oreo cookie" father, and their two children, a college dropout and probably gay son and his vicious, moon-eyed, calculating sister who has taken over Mom's domestic role and is sexually closing in on Dad.
The acting is surprisingly convincing given the hothouse Freudian circumstances. The tour de force role is Mom's, and actress Sarina Grant is pure fire. She overworks her lips, habitually curling them into a snarl, but she has great glowing eyes, a wiry sexuality and piercing diction.
The show is overwrought, as in operatic, but it couldn't be played any other way. Except maybe that scene where Sandra Sealy as the jealous sister pulls her brother's Fruit of the Loom shorts completely down prior to an unseen mutual rape. The scene shocks but, remarkably, it works because of the discomforting erotic tension.