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THEATER BEAT

Crime scenes to keep you smiling

February 28, 2003|Philip Brandes; David C. Nichols; F. Kathleen Foley

Director-designer Dave Barton maintains seamless transitions on his black-box setting, dominated by a floor painting of the Union Jack, and has assembled an awesomely courageous cast. Tai's accent is erratic, but her investment is heartbreaking. Cramer's stylized approach neatly dovetails with Martin's fluid immediacy and Jennings' stolid solidity. Parker is riveting, carrying the play's surreal autoerotic climax in tandem with the extraordinary Bennett.

Here, as elsewhere, Ravenhill's emotional poetry outstrips his sardonic polemic, and the plot's high stakes evaporate in a perfunctory resolution. Yet merely mounting such provocative theater in the seat of conservative Orange County seems heroic, and recommends these "Polaroids" to adventurous audiences.

-- David C. Nichols

"Some Explicit Polaroids," Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. Friday-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends March 23. Contains nudity and sexual situations; no one under 17 admitted without a guardian. $12-$15. (714) 547-4688. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

*

Class struggle

in 1958 London

Why Jez Butterworth's "Mojo" won the 1995 Olivier Award -- for best comedy, no less -- is anybody's guess. Brash, raw and violent, Butterworth's play about disenfranchised young Cockneys on the fringes of the early London rock 'n' roll scene is a bit of a mess, and only intermittently funny.

However, at the Armory Northwest in Pasadena, the Furious Theatre Company has a whacking wonderful time with Butterworth's diffuse and desultory period piece, which affords a grim yet fascinating peep into London's lower depths, circa 1958.

The play opens in the shabby upstairs office of Ezra's Atlantic, an inner-city nightclub. During intermission, Shawn Lee's terrific set transforms into the nightclub itself, working beer taps and all. Outside, it's high summer, but within these cold gray confines, you'd never know it. It's the perfectly claustrophobic atmosphere for these Dead End characters, trapped in Britain's unforgiving class system.

Silver Johnny (Nick Cernoch) is the play's McGuffin, the elusive object of everyone's ambition and desire. A brilliant teen rocker on the verge of stardom, Silver Johnny was "discovered" by Ezra, the club's pederastic owner. Now, Sam Ross, a ruthless mobster, is poaching on Ezra's preserves.

Ezra and Sam are never seen, but the bloody consequences of their altercation trickle down on the club's buffoonish underlings, Sweets (Eric Pargac), Sid Potts (Damaso Rodriguez), and Skinny (Brad Price). For Ezra's deeply disturbed son Baby (Lee), the violence triggers a psychic eruption. Yet for Mickey (James C. Leary), the club's paternalistic and deceptively nurturing assistant manager, the situation spells opportunity.

Director Vonessa Martin orchestrates the resulting mayhem crisply, if somewhat unevenly. Baby and Mickey are beautifully underplayed, while Sweets, Potts and Skinny are broadly comic caricatures -- an odd amalgam that doesn't always serve the play.

Still, it takes an intrepid company to tackle a piece this challenging, and the young Turks at the Furious Company are nothing if not daring. Voice and speech consultant Pamela Vanderway does her typically fine job overseeing the play's Cockney dialects, which are, on the whole, remarkably convincing.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Mojo," Furious Theatre at the Armory Northwest, 965 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena. Fridays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m. Ends March 23. $15-$20. (818) 679-8854. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

*

Droll satire about a troubled teen

Twisted irreverence pervades "Busted Jesus Comix," presented by Moving Arts at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. David Johnston's black comedy, a holdover from the company's 2002 one-act festival, is drawn in jagged strokes, like Art Spiegelman wielding a ballpoint jackhammer.

Nineteen-year-old Tallahassee protagonist Marco (Michael May) sketches his story in flashbacks to his prospective employer, a Manhattan coffee franchise manager (Lori Yeghiayan).

Back home, Marco created a moral firestorm over his cathartic title creation, barely avoiding prison through a plea-bargaining attorney (Kathi Chandler).

With the reparative therapy prescribed by his leering psychiatrist (Andrew Leman), the court's moratorium on his drawing and the unspeakable childhood horrors embedded in his work, Marco hovers near meltdown.

Under Julie Brigg's brisk direction, "Comix" resembles "Beavis and Butthead" written by the young Christopher Durang. Johnston skewers family values, slacker culture, judicial ineptitude and Starbucks -- and that's just for starters.

The cast embraces the contradictions. May's nervous deadpan is exactly right, his absent Southern accent notwithstanding. Yeghiayan's empathetic lesbian, Chandler's underused public defender and Leman's shrunken-headed shrink are rock-solid. Brian Newkirk, Keith Berkes and Amy Thiel attack multiple roles with gusto, the latter pair riotous as Marco's toxic doodlings.

However, the satire is more profanely droll than truly scathing. Johnston pushes the narrative envelope beyond its structural capacity, with Marco's revelations foreseeable and the abrupt sunny ending a wild misfire.

"Comix" is certainly original, but if this graphic novelty desires widespread syndication, additional panels are needed.

-- D.C.N.

"Busted Jesus Comix," Moving Arts at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends March 9. Mature audiences. $12. (213) 473-0660. Running time: 65 minutes

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