We're basically seeing directorial tryouts for a fully realized production, and some are tantalizing. Director Greg Von Dare opts for a feudal Japanese setting, which might be more impressive if his actors looked more at ease in their samurai poses and swaddling kimonos. Only Trieu Tran's fiery Hotspur registers here.
Director Chad Restum handles his portion as unfussy, no-period epic theater. He has the advantage of a delightfully windy Falstaff (Carlos Carrasco), a hauntingly resolute Prince Hal (James Parks), and a slick but steely Hotspur (William Dixon), who's particularly good opposite Stuart W. Howard's pompous Glendower. And Kent Minault makes a stirring King Henry.
In the show's tastiest overlay, director Lawrence Peters sets his scenes in contemporary Houston. Some actors twang too broadly, but keepers in this Texas layover include Jayne Taini's blowsy Mistress Quickly, Karen Tarleton's breezy Archbishop, Paul Taviani's punkish, high-strung Hotspur (slyly evoking George W.), Mark Cross' coolly corporate monarch, Deanna Cordano's dry Vernon and the weary Worcester of Christopher Cappiello (a strong presence throughout).
Director Alexander Wells' unfortunate final battle features women in "Star Trek" couture, though his Hal (Susan Hanfield) and his Hotspur (Caitlin Prennace) do muster a decent fight. Like the rest of this tireless company, they get a good workout here. But who wants to watch a workout?
-- Rob Kendt
"Henry IV, Part 1 x 4," The Classical Theatre Lab at Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park, Martel Avenue between Fountain Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 6. (323) 960-5691. Suggested donation $10. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.
'Love Machine' eventually revs up
It takes a while for "Acme Love Machine" to get humming. Indeed, roughly the first half of this new sketch show from Acme Company is filled with fine ideas by smart writers that nevertheless sputter and cough their way to the blackout.
The first act features a parade of well-limned caricatures: a stubborn Jewish oldster (Greg Benson), a supremely confident ditz (Kim Evey), a starchy accountant (Kimberly Lewis), a poker player (Wil Wheaton) with a glaring "tell," a woman (Jodi Miller) who lives in her car.
None of their sketches, though, earns more than a smile or two.
The first act closer, a beguilingly sure-footed office "ballet," turns things around; after intermission the show begins to click. The deadpan Chris MacKenzie delivers a pair of winners: an uproariously offensive underwear inspector whose secret seems to be having others inspect him, and a presumptuous boss who will stop at nothing to remember an employee's name.
Matt Knudsen gives us a spectacularly inept and childish lawyer, as well as a man whose beastly sleep habits ruin his lovely one-night stand with the hapless Evey.
And Benson scores as an uncomprehending foreigner on a blind date with Miller's desperate single.
Standing out less for his writing than for his expert double takes, slow burns and all-around reliable stage presence is affable everyguy Kevin Small. With a better mix of writing fuel and performing horsepower, director Travis Oates could knock this faltering "Machine" up a few notches.
-- Rob Kendt
"Acme Love Machine," Acme Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Saturdays. $15. (323) 525-0202. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.