Some plays are all about setting the scene. "Killers," the latest offering at Evidence Room, is that kind of play.
It's the 1950s, oh-so-early in the a.m., in a dilapidated boarding house. The writer (Nick Offerman), scarred physically and emotionally, sits poised painfully over his manual typewriter, surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper. His index finger twitches with potential inspiration.
In the kitchen, the old man (Tom Fitzpatrick) cusses at the writer's incessant clacking on the typewriter keys, then reaches once again for the bottle of whisky he keeps under the sink.
The neurotic, young and penniless boarder (Michael Cassady) emerges, in only his underwear, for his nightly sleepwalk. When he returns, the landlady (Jacqueline Wright), out for a smoke and looking disheveled and depressed, demands her rent.
Add a dangerous stranger -- or, at least, the landlady's recently un-incarcerated husband (Leo Marks) -- to this motley mix, along with the whisky, cigarettes, loneliness and pent-up frustration, and you've got ... a lot of noir-ish atmosphere.
Sure, there's a story in "Killers," involving -- an ominous-sounding chord here, please -- murder. But that's really beside the point. John Olive's play is purely a vessel for style, an opportunity for director Bart DeLorenzo and his ace ensemble to fondle -- with palpable affection -- the pulp artistry of Charles Bukowski and Jim Thompson's writing, and John Coltrane's music.
The design work is ultra-sharp, and the performances drippingly juicy. The production draws you into the pulp world instantly. That's a fun place to be, even though the show doesn't fully thrill. It lacks the final surge of dramatic electricity -- the sexual tensions and moments of danger are distant rather than immediate.
But who needs electricity when you've got this many sparks?
-- Steven Oxman
"Killers," Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Ends Aug. 27. $15 and $20. (213) 381-7118, www.evidenceroom.com. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
'Legend' changes the shape of love
A slight but mostly pleasant confection of a show, "The Legend of the White Snake" feels, when it's working, as if someone is reading a children's fable.
In this new stage version of a Chinese tale at the Sylvan Amphitheatre in Eagle Rock, White Snake (Angelina Cheng) has willed herself and her sister, Little Green (Andrea Apuy), from serpent to human after a thousand years of meditation. She falls in love with a poor medicine man named Hsu Xian (Leonard Wu), but must battle a disapproving monk, Fa Hai (Craig Ng), who tips Hsu Xian off to his beloved's origins.
Playwright Henry Ong, best known for "Madame Mao's Memories," effectively weaves together the past-life back story to give this piece some storytelling depth. He also includes a narrator who enters into the action. He's named Boy, and he's portrayed with a strong sense of joy by Kennedy Kabasares, who sets the playful, relaxed tone for the evening.
Ong also directs, incorporating movements from tai chi and, very effectively, the right amount of background music to invest the performance with a stylistic innocence. His staging makes full use of the outdoor amphitheater, with actors walking all over the seating area to make the venue feel intimate. The cast brings an amiable casualness to the piece, with the exception of Cheng, who is a bit hesitant and unsmiling.
The work begins sagging at the end as the production values just can't pull off the big battle scene, and Ong's ending -- a forced effort at modern-day relevance -- falls dishearteningly flat. It's a bit of a shame, because there's real charm here.
"The Legend of the White Snake," Sylvan Amphitheatre in Yosemite Park, 1840 Yosemite Drive, Eagle Rock. 7 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Aug. 13. Free ($10 suggested donation). (323) 226-1617. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.
'Bat Boy': Outcast, and tone deaf too
Exercise caution in approaching "Bat Boy: The Musical" in its lair at the Whitefire Theatre. It bites.
Inspired by a notoriously lurid tabloid Photoshop creation, this offbeat modern fable chronicles a half-human creature's attempted assimilation into a West Virginia coal mining community. Following its 1997 Actors' Gang premiere, "Bat Boy" found off-Broadway cult fame and is fast becoming a staple on the hipper revival circuit.
Whatever improvements creators Keythe Farley, Brian Fleming and Laurence O'Keefe may have wrought along the way, however, the show has lost ground in the ambitious but overreaching hands of Staged Souls, a company that prides itself (a bit too much) on the youth of its members. While energy and enthusiasm are never in short supply, the ensemble lacks the experience, production resources and singing abilities to do justice to the material.
The best of the lot are RJ Jordan in the title role and Hannah McMurray as the maternal housewife who turns the shrieking mutant into a cultured gentleman with the help of some BBC language tapes.
At its best, "Bat Boy" transcends its campy conceits to strike the dissonant emotional chords of an outsider caught between civilized norms and his animal soul. But its nuances are hard to realize when the cast can't carry a tune. This should on no account be mistaken for a professional production.
-- Philip Brandes
"Bat Boy: The Musical," Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 14. $20. (323) 960-1057 or www.plays411.com/batboy. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.