On rare occasion, a production will catch your attention despite the odds. A new black domestic drama, "Caught in the Middle with No Way Out" at the Callboard Theater, is derivative, overwritten, and marred by unimaginative lighting and creaky set design. But director/playwright/star Michael J. Holland--who's all of 22--is a diamond-in-the-rough. He makes his show work because he knows how to control and build momentum. The wrenching ending, in a format otherwise melodramatic, is testament to Holland's deceptive talent.
Holland's drama centers on the havoc that teen gang violence spreads to the disparate members of a fatherless black family. The plot elements and the characters may be stereotypical, but the acting is vivid and fiery enough to draw heat.
Sometimes that fire gets out of control. John Russell is too blatantly smirky as an egocentric gang leader (but his last-minute transformation is surprisingly affecting). Patty Clipper's good-hearted teen sister, who shows off some terrific dance moves, is quite winning but needs to shade her histrionics. Holland, in the central role of the gentle ex-con and peacekeeping older son, is a bit mannered in his agonizing, but his transition to private tears is moving.
The others--Doris B. Bennett's harried mama, Eugene Berry's concerned white cop, Frank Aragon's punk follower, Jacqueline Shonk's up-tight English teacher, and Marvin Morgenstern's burned-out doctor--deliver the supporting goods.
The production may be raw but its energy is burnished.
Performances conclude this weekend at 8451 Melrose Place, tonight through Sunday, 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. (213) 969-0419 or (818) 508-4252.
Now for a spiritual tiding. "Godspell," a hit 1971 musical, is not exactly a Christmas show, but its vision of Christ as a straightforward, vulnerable youth with zestful wisdom and humor strikes a deep sense of how things might have been.
This contemporary, back-alley treatment of the parables of St. Matthew continues to feel right, even as the knockabout, spoofy tone of the show itself grows more dated.
Any production of "Godspell" today needs new verve. And the show at the comfortable, steeply terraced Golden Theater in Burbank is long and strong on dance under the robust choreography of director Gregory Scott Young. (The Golden Theater, which opened a few months ago with "A Chorus Line," is committed to reviving musicals with focus on dance.)
Unfortunately, the production's weak suit is acting. Only Marcus D'Amico (Jesus) and Charles Saporiti (Judas) enjoy strong dramatic presence among the dozen performers. Saporiti is the vocal standout. But far too often other singers' lyrics are inaudible, drowned out by three live musicians. The words in D'Amico's song, "Alas For You," were smothered (a task for vocal director Christie Lynn Lawrence).
In sum, a spirited and colorful show but not genuinely exhilarating. Despite that fulsome view of Christ and music by Steven Schwartz that still perks, the glow of "Godspell" is getting dimmer.
Performances are at 139 N. Golden Mall, Burbank, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3, through Jan. 17. No performance today. Tickets: $12; (818) 841-9921.
'Cut on the Bias'
Tillie the Tapper is a kept woman. Bobbi Jo is an abused hillbilly wife. Phoebe is a loser with Broadway in her eyes. Edwina is a Londoner desperately dealing with a New York subway. Della Mae (from the annals of author/star Donna Cameron's own life) is an acrobat with Ringling Bros.
Those women are among the 10 original characters written and enacted by veteran actress Donna Cameron in her fetching solo show, "Cut on the Bias," at the Cassandra Gaylor Theater. With no set and only slight costume changes, Cameron, in five- to seven-minute dramatizations, unspools a ripe collection of neurotic, lonely, funny, scared women tilted on life's cutting edge. Or, as Cameron puts it: ". . . life's scissors have cut (my ladies) at an angle." The show is sweet and short. Cameron is alternately piquant, endearing, humorous, touching. She introduces her character in a few seconds and then plays that character, deftly altering vocal accents to better assume her different masks.
Her writing is rich in anecdotal detail. Sometimes she sounds like a female Mark Twain.
Last performance at 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $5. (213) 654-3642.
Naturalism on stage can be excruciating when the actors emulate real life down to the very silences that accompany watching television or to the minutes it takes in real life to get in and out of clothes and costumes. Such is the boredom in the American premiere of "Surrender Dorothy" at the Powerhouse.
Director Dana Burns Westberg, heading up a company of expatriate U.S. and Scottish players who make their home in Paris, makes little effort to condense, telescope, or economize scenic action. The result is a long night.
The play's premise--five adult orphans preparing a Christmas pageant--is an inane attempt to probe the definition of family. These adults (three men and two women) have spent most of their lives together awaiting adoption. Now one of them is about to go, and nobody's thrilled about it. Clenched teeth prevail.
The production, with a cluttered set whose strongest feature is a venetian blind, has one genuinely funny moment when the women (actresses Suzanne Andrews and Judith Burnett) mock female poses from a hard-core magazine. Blessedly, we are spared the pageant itself. The actors are Christian Erickson, Garrick Maul and Joseph Sheridan. The latter is the only memorable performer.
Performances run at 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica, Wednesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sunday, 7:30 p.m., through Jan. 31. No performance today. Tickets: $8-$10; (213) 392-6529.