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THEATER BEAT

Giving his father a loving tribute

August 31, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley, David. C. Nichols

Greg Lewis is one of those craggy character actors whose faces are instantly recognizable, even though their names may elude you.

Lewis reflects on his Greek roots and his showbiz past in "Some Greeks Are Not in the Restaurant Business," his one-man show at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Director Robert Walden once again helms Lewis' reminiscences. (Lewis' solo show "Gregory," directed by Walden, played this venue in 1999.)

There's no shortage of juicy anecdotes in this latest autobiographical outing. Lewis is blessed with a Proustian memory and a keen sense of comic timing honed during his years as half of the comedy duo Lewis & Christy, "the Mad Greeks."

He got his break at age 15 with the celebrated group the Harmonicats. Indeed, Lewis remains a dazzling harmonica player, as he proves here several times. Eventually, a grueling schedule drove him to a near-fatal brush with drugs and booze.

However, Lewis' real business in "Greeks" is sorting out his complicated relationship with his father, a harshly paternalistic Greek restaurant proprietor whom Lewis brings to vibrant life. Although his father died of a heart attack before the two were able to achieve any emotional intimacy, Lewis redresses that deficit, movingly, in this loving tribute to the man it has taken him a lifetime to understand -- and forgive.

Walden's simple staging places Lewis in an armchair and mostly leaves him there, a simple tack that lends a cozy "fireside chat" ambience to the proceedings. A few flaws are apparent. The structure of the show is somewhat episodic, and Lewis has a distracting tic of playing with his fingers. That's nitpicking, however. A congenial host and no mean raconteur, Lewis shares his droll memories with humor and generosity.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Some Greeks Are Not in the Restaurant Business," Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 9. $20. (310) 358-9936, www.camelotartists.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

A 'Titus' that's overwrought

Equal parts inspiration and overkill course across "Titus Andronicus." Shakespeare's grisly first tragedy gets a creatively twisted, Mussolini-era overhaul by the Porters of Hellsgate, a promising young company with a fine handle on iambic pentameter and rather more zeal than synthesis.

"Titus' " title character (the ferocious Charles Pasternak) returns from a decade of war to a Rome in disarray after the emperor's death. Despite being the people's choice, as his brother (Jack Leahy) informs us, Titus declines the throne, deferring to Saturninus (Jonathon Bangle), the emperor's eldest son.

Smartly using the multilevel, bare-bones space, director Natasha Vargas-Cooper draws neat current parallels. Power-mad Saturninus and Basianus (Patrick J. Saxon), his egalitarian brother, embody the red-blue divide. Titus and his sons, led by Lucius (Adam McCrory), drag out their captives -- Goth queen Tamora (Amanda Marquardt), her sons and archvillain Aaron the Moor (Eddie Castuera) -- in an Abu Ghraib-like tableau.

After Titus sacrifices Tamora's eldest son, earning her undying enmity, and Lavinia (Taylor Fisher), Titus' daughter, rejects Saturninus for fiancé Basianus, the new emperor marries Tamora. An absurdly gory revenge saga follows.

Vargas-Cooper and designers Daniel Keck (lighting) and Jessica Pasternak (costumes) are resourceful, from the beribboned approach to Lavinia's mutilation to the Tarantino-tinged comeuppance of Tamora's rapacious surviving offspring (Bryant Romo and Brandon Gilbrech).

Yet the mix of humor and terror is erratic, and a tendency toward high-decibel attack impedes dramatic build. Even if one agrees with critic Harold Bloom that the ideal "Titus" director would be Mel Brooks, the thunderously overwrought declamation that too many members of the valiant cast display serves neither heightened tension nor irreverent laughter. Though it may well gain a cult following, "Titus Andronicus" is mainly a signpost for what this nervy troupe will yet achieve.

-- David. C. Nichols

"Titus Andronicus," Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 9. $15. (310) 804-1759. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

What's meant to be bad and the bad

For most of the first act of "Lucy & the Wolf," Stefan Marks' world-premiere play at the Two Roads Theatre, you will be intrigued by the circuitously vapid chatter between the play's eponymous characters, slack-jawed lowlifes who are, initially at least, richly and humorously reiterative. Before long, however, you might suspect that all that comical circularity is leading you to a dead end. And you'd be right.

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