There's not much more to playwright Amy Heidish's impish "The Big Ever After" than an extended sketch comedy idea: What if the worlds of pulp fiction and fairy tales got gene-spliced somehow, so that palookas and princesses could meet and mix up the rigid rules of their respective genres?
The good news is that director Richard Tatum's new production for the Ark Theatre Company works comfortably within the confines of Heidish's self-referential conceit, and his game cast makes the most of the play's often witty juxtapositions.
A narrator (John Murphy) dryly sets it up: In the "city that never sleeps," morally ambiguous characters go through their noir paces, while in "fairy tale land," happy endings come when good characters vanquish villains. Never the twain do meet -- till some fortuitously timed earthquakes shake and stir them together, hopelessly blurring their plotlines and morals.
Heidish cites but doesn't overdo the free-will-versus-determinism theme; instead, she sets about having more fun with the mash-up of gritty and folkloric than would seem possible.
Two key crossover romances are expertly handled. One has a sensible Cinderella (Jamie Virostko) winning over a dubious detective (Tom Groenwald), while the other imagines a giddy platinum floozy (Amy Tofte) overwhelming a callow Prince Charming (David Stevens).
Ryan Jessica Lennon's lovingly exaggerated costumes bear most of the load in the show's amiably shoestring design. With an enthusiastic cast and such outsized roles, there is some inevitable overplaying, but no overstaying their welcome.
-- Rob Kendt
"The Big Ever After," the Ark Theatre Company and Playwrights 6 at the Ark Theatre, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 27. $20. (323) 969-1707 or www.arktheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Bringing order to the theater
The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts' presentation of "The Misfortunes of a Household" begins with its author, the 17th century Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, attempting to coax more realistic portrayals from the sisters of her convent, whom she has cast in the play. She seems ready to give up in exasperation when the magic of the theater takes hold and the sisters are transformed into the coed lineup of characters, sumptuously dressed in period ruffles and plumes.
Sor Juana rose above the constraints of her time to become a playwright, poet, philosopher, scientist and role model. In this adaptation of the 1683 comedy "Los empenos de una casa" by Margarita Galban and Lina Montalvo, Sor Juana herself metamorphoses into Leonor (Sonya Smith), the story's heroine, who is in love with the dashing Carlos (Manolo Travieso). Foiling their elopement plans, the jealous Pedro (Ernesto Miyares) abducts Leonor and whisks her to his home in Toledo, Spain, and the care of his sister Ana (Adriana Cornejo), who is caught up in intrigues of her own. As the characters converge in the dead of night, their entanglements become ever knottier.
The household's crafty maid, Celia (Ariana Estrada), and Carlos' nervous servant, Castano (Ray M. Quiroga), further complicate the situation -- especially when Castano attempts to disguise himself in a dress.
Performances are offered in Spanish or English, with accompanying cast changes. The reviewed performance was conducted in a style so broadly comic that it became all but unrecognizable as human behavior. Still, the production, directed by Galban, stopped short of pure lunacy, enabling viewers to identify the humor inherent in a play that depicts love as a literal and figurative grope in the darkness.
-- Daryl H. Miller
"The Misfortunes of a Household," Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Los Angeles. All remaining performances in Spanish except March 19, in English. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; added performance 4 p.m. this Saturday. Ends March 20. $25 to $36. (323) 225-4044. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Personalizing the Civil War
Sean Branney, artistic director of Theatre Banshee, has been sifting through diaries, letters and extant writings from the Civil War period for two years now. The result of his research, "Mine Eyes Hath Seen," now playing at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank, is not a perfect production by any means. However, this world premiere, which Branney co-created with his wife, Leslie Baldwin, proves a rousing, well-staged, thoughtfully performed and ultimately cathartic examination of the era.
To get the quibbles out of the way first, the most problematic element is the interstitial narration. Clad in contemporary attire, Branney, who also directs, is an inarguably essential kibitzer who provides necessary explanations throughout the play. However, Branney's anachronistic references to contemporary events, most particularly the war in Iraq, detract from the painstaking period ambience.