"The Mikado Project," Doris Baizley and Ken Narasaki's world premiere musical, presented by Lodestone Theatre Ensemble at GTC Burbank, makes serious points about cultural stereotypes and the endemic racism of certain classics, in this case "The Mikado." However, the play's political context is sugar-coated subtext to what is, first and foremost, solid entertainment of a charmingly wacky stripe.
The action takes us backstage at a small Asian American theater company that is running out of cash and may be forced to close. Artistic director Lance (humorous Allen C. Liu), a dedicated fussbudget who lives for his theater, hopes that a radically contemporized production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "colonialist" classic will revive his company's fortunes.
It's a slight but serviceable concept that yields a plethora of barbed parody lyrics and plenty of fun that this cheekily ebullient cast is obviously happy to share. Director Chil Kong keeps the proceedings convincingly spontaneous, lending a warm and inclusive air to the production.
Don't let the apparent offhandedness fool you. Under the casualness lies an impressive stringency, both in Kong's staging and in Dennis Yen's musical direction. The winning cast includes Kennedy Kabasares, Blythe Matsui, Erin Quill, Julia Cho and Feodor Chin. Ronald M. Banks, memorable for his eponymous turn in East West Players' recent production of "Sweeney Todd," is a particular standout, an accomplished actor-singer whose casually funny manner is a pleasant surprise, particularly in light of his bitterly virtuosic previous portrayal.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
"The Mikado Project," GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 20. $15. (323) 993-7245. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
A dark but moving trip into 'Hades'
Don't look back -- a life (and death) lesson the ancient Greek poet Orpheus learned the hard way. In Aaron Henne's new play, "Sliding Into Hades," developed and performed by the KOAN Ensemble at Odyssey Theatre, the tragic love of Orpheus and his lost Eurydice becomes a lens to consider dying, grief and our stubborn attachment to life.
The seven-member cast, dressed in Swinda Reichelt's monochromatic costumes, moves across the near-bare stage, playing out the Greek myth, along with more symbolic detours: a trip to a funeral parlor or an echo chamber full of souls immobilized by regret.
Director Ron Sossi, who also conceived the piece, creates a number of arresting images, including the murmuring dead pushing empty grocery carts through the underworld. And over and over, we see Orpheus sweeping the stage with broom, the sound of the bristles against the floor, an eerie cynosure of our impermanence. Then there's the fatal moment when we watch multiple Orpheuses slowly, slowly turn back to look at their beloved Eurydices. We know what will happen, but can't tear our eyes away. Marina Bakica, Diana Cignoni and Ochuwa Oghie, each playing the dead bride, manage to walk the line between mythic and affectingly immediate, and Alan Abelew, as an older Orpheus, has a vulnerability that underscores the play's themes.
The production doesn't always sustain its smartest tone; some scenes devolve into story theater, and the cast can push the gossamer material too hard, turning it into New Age pap. But "Hades" does evoke life's fleeting beauty, and our mortality -- confused, desperate and somehow ever hopeful.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
"Sliding Into Hades," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, 7 p.m. May 27 and June 17. Ends June 17. $25-$12. Contact: (310) 477-2055. Running time: 80 minutes.
It's how you play the game
Which is more important -- winning the game at all costs or having fun playing it? Two views of success, American style, square off within the confines of a Little League baseball diamond in "Rounding Third" at Burbank's Colony Theatre.
Playwright Richard Dresser based this warm-hearted two-actor comedy on the real-life collision of his genteel notions of fair play with the unscrupulous tactics of his son's aggressively competitive coach.
Their antagonistic philosophies are embodied onstage by belligerent Don (Jerry Kernion) and his timid new assistant, Michael (Kevin Symons).
In characterizations that divide neatly along class lines, blue-collar Don amusingly channels Ralph Kramden as he barks orders to the unseen kids. Sensitive office worker Michael, haunted by memories of being "the kid who never got picked," is determined to ensure a good experience for everyone.
The arc of conflict that gives way to understanding between them is predictable but enjoyable thanks to engaging chemistry between the actors. Within polite boundaries, playwright Dresser adds a few layers of poignancy and ties up every loose end with hyper-efficient craftsmanship.