As is typical with any offering from the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, "As You Like It" at the Matrix features an all-female cast. Considering that Shakespeare's comedy revolves around Rosalind, the beleaguered heroine who dons men's attire for much of the play, the ironic juxtaposition of cross-dressing women in men's roles may prove intriguing to students of gender studies.
But whether you're a scholar or a mere groundling, you're likely to have a rollicking good time in this revisionist production. The decision to set the action in the Wild West is surprisingly apt, although the ebullient cast can be a bit uneven and choreographer Cate Caplin's dance sequences, while charmingly conceived, are sometimes ploddingly executed. For the most part, however, director Lisa Wolpe masks the deficits and maximizes the fun in this high-spirited entertainment.
Mia Torres' clapboard sets look like they were lifted directly from a studio back lot, appropriate considering the heightened theatricality of Wolpe's energetic staging. Christina Wright's splendidly detailed costumes are essential to the tone, while Mary Trahey's hair and makeup design makes us forget that, under their mustaches and muttonchops, these swaggering cowboys are actually women.
Kimberleigh Aarn's thoughtful, virile Orlando is nicely balanced by Abigail Rose Solomon's breezy, feisty Rosalind, whose hoydenish qualities also contrast nicely with Celia's (Katrinka Wolfson) elegant girlishness. Fran Bennett does her usual fine job in dual roles as Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, while Kate Roxburgh's Touchstone is a Cockney wag always ready to tweak the proprieties of his betters. As the deceptively "melancholy" Jacques, Wolpe is the evening's standout, particularly in her authoritative rendering of the "Ages of Man" speech -- the most lucid interpretation of that particular passage in memory.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
"As You Like It," Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 3. $25. (800) 595-4849. www.lawsc.net. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Examining a victim's life
Human truisms drive about the enigmatic collage of "Last Fare" at the Hayworth Studio Theatre. In this allegory-in-psychological mystery guise, which studies a murdered man through interviews with his contemporaries, actor-writer Dominic Hoffman considers that none of us truly knows each other, yet everybody affects everybody, even if they cannot detect it.
It's easy to detect the formidable abilities of Hoffman, a double Ovation winner for "Uncle Jacques' Symphony." Compact and intense, with a liquid mug and a resonant vocal range, Hoffman carries the house from his first entrance as a reverend at a memorial service. This benevolent paternal surrogate frames the vignettes that make up "Last Fare," as an unseen reporter (the audience) questions various entities (embodied by Hoffman) about the dead man in No. 609.
By the time we've traveled the circle of his life through a gallery of vivid characters -- British cabdriver, wary superintendent or insouciant hooker -- "Last Fare" unveils almost more about them than the departed. Using shifting layers of information to address social issues, Hoffman draws on a shade more content than necessary, but his writing chops are impressive.
"Last Fare," fascinating in the Eric Bogosian manner, could benefit from a director. The text has many sharply un-PC observations, also a few too many repetitions that aren't leitmotif. Although lighting designer Ken Booth and the excerpts from Branford Marsalis' "Requiem" establish mood, transitions can confuse.
As a showcase for a significant talent, "Last Fare" is arresting. It just needs an outside eye to complete the picture.
-- David C. Nichols
"Last Fare," Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 3. $25. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
A woman's place isn't in the home
The first play to win a Pulitzer was "Why Marry?" a dust-gathering 1917 social comedy by Jesse Lynch Williams. Theatre Neo's revival of this bit of theatrical obscurity reveals a vibrant, Shavian skewering of early 20th century gender roles with surprising -- one might say unhappy -- resonance for today.
Directed with a buoyant touch by David Cheaney and performed by a strong cast at the Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood, the play revolves around unmarried research scientist Helen (memorably played by Aimee Guichard, also the stand-out costume designer).
Women have yet to win the right to vote, and to be a single career woman is not only regrettable but unnatural to society at large and to Helen's family, especially head-of-household brother John, a wealthy businessman (Steven Benson, the epitome of comically corpulent outrage).