Darkness. A confusion of sounds reconstruct a random act of violence, bereft of context or meaning. A robbery. A shooting. Someone has died.
Spotlight upon a solitary stool, where the perfectly composed title character of "Mrs. Cage" (Barbara Bain) begins her deadpan eyewitness statement to the enigmatic police lieutenant (Lionel Mark Smith) assigned to the case.
It's a remarkable narrative, and an extraordinary pair of performances in this Stages Theatre Center revival of Nancy Barr's 1987 drama. The seemingly disconnected fragments of Mrs. Cage's life as an alienated housewife--ironing her lawyer/husband's shirts, grocery shopping, the theme from "Rawhide," and the search for a parking space--prove inseparable from the horrifying occurrence that killed the young supermarket bag boy who used to flirt with her.
Weaving these disparate threads into her circuitous account, Bain evokes a chilling vision of a woman who lost everything she cared about in a single day, leaving behind a hollow shell beyond redemption.
As he listens, Smith reveals a sympathetic bond grounded in his character's own agonies, yet draws a crisp line at the limits of human compassion.
Paul Verdier's stark staging heightens the mounting tension through eerie monotone delivery punctured by emotional eruptions. Tight spotlights on the characters echo their narrow corridors of self-definition.
This intense inquiry into the potential for violence underlying the most commonplace encounters will certainly make you think twice before braving an express checkout lane with more than the allowed number of items.
\o7 * "Mrs. Cage," Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 4. $18. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. \f7
'Two Faced' Touches at Theatre 1761
"Two Faced" at Theatre 1761 is about betrayal, but not in the usual sense. This solo performance piece by Lynne Adams is a funny, insightful and touching portrait of a woman's discovery that she's been living out other people's expectations while ignoring her own authentic identity. Gazing in a mirror, she says, "I couldn't recognize the middle-aged fat woman staring back at me."
The initial sight of Adams' unnamed divorcee scrambling into a wig and makeup to help land a new job is sure to strike a resonant chord in the midst of a society obsessed with youthful appearance. In the series of short scenes that comprise the play, we trace this woman's rocky path through career re-entry, depression, new-found romance, inevitable disillusionment and, ultimately, the calm acceptance of someone who's finally found her center and recognized the boundaries of her life. She's earned the generosity and hope she achieves.
Sister Brooke Adams' direction is brisk, focused and attentive to shifts in tone, although some territory is covered more than once. Trimming 10 minutes and playing the piece straight through without a break would make for a tighter presentation.
The play's issues may be familiar, to be sure, but the clarity and honesty in Adams' performance makes "Two Faced" an affecting--and noteworthy--personal statement.
\o7 * "Two Faced," Theatre 1761, 1761 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Runs indefinitely. $15. (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. \f7
Noise Within's Fresh 'School for Scandal'
Re-envisioning "The School for Scandal," Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1777 comedy of manners, as a 1950s-style sitcom is something of a departure from the scrupulously literal stagings usually associated with A Noise Within classical repertory company, but Art Manke's energetic staging injects a refreshing sparkle into a familiar warhorse.
It's not an inappropriate resetting, either--the spectacle of a rakish egoist (Eric David Johnson) secreting his guardian (Mitchell Edmonds) in a closet while simultaneously concealing the guardian's wayward wife (Jill Hill) plays with the frenetic appeal of an "I Love Lucy" episode.
The large ensemble handily sustains the momentum, highlighted by deft performances from Dierk Torseck, Emily Heebner and Preston Maybank. Only the characterization of Lady Sneerwell (Gail Shapiro) as a cocaine-tooting vamp may seem confusingly present-day, although drug abuse is hardly unique to our time. Director Manke took one liberty in transforming the unstageably anti-Semitic figure of the moneylender Moses into a generic loan shark named Racket (Robert Prescovitz).
For all its updated satirical jabs at the aristocracy, the production remains faithful to the humanistic core of Sheridan's comedy--its innate warm-toned affection for people, despite their foibles, that never goes out of style.
\o7 * "The School for Scandal," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tonight, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m.; Nov. 10, 18, 25, 30; Dec. 1, 8, 10, 16, 8 p.m.; Nov. 13, Dec. 4, 18, 7 p.m.; Nov. 19, 26, Dec. 10-11, 17-18, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 18. $19. (818) 546- 1924. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes. \f7