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'Stitching' doesn't hold it all together

March 13, 2009|Charlotte Stoudt; Philip Brandes; F. Kathleen Foley;

One room, two actors, strong premise: a couple deciding what to do about an unexpected pregnancy. "Stitching," now running at the Lillian Theater, tells the story of Stu (John Ventimiglia), who falls for student and part-time prostitute Abby (Meital Dohan). Is their love strong enough to survive parenthood? Or is something else really going on?

This 80-minute adult drama, which attracted some controversy during its New York run, features self-mutilation, sado-masochism and violent fantasizing. But these extremes occur in the context of emotional distress.

The real problem here isn't the subject matter but rather the execution. Anthony Neilson has something compelling to say about the dark helix of intimacy and self-loathing, but it's not fully expressed yet. Director Timothy Haskell draws out the piece with transitions featuring moody string music, which diminishes the tension required to sustain Neilson's nervy, minimalist style. (The affecting score, which would work better in a classical play, is by Daron Murphy.)

The highlight of the evening is Dohan: droll and ferocious, she prowls the stage like a Fassbinder diva, and her negotiations for sexual services are among the funnier moments. Ventimiglia is temperamentally a lighter actor -- his is the comedy of apology -- and his energy doesn't entirely suit the demands of the play.

In the end, "Stitching" can't quite weave together its elements of eroticism, grief and narrative twists into a satisfying evening.

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Charlotte Stoudt

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"Stitching," Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends April 5. $25. (323) 962-7782. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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Moliere comedie a la 1957 Texas

Although a Moliere farce doesn't leap to mind as a likely source of inspiration for a country and western musical, composer-lyricist Matthew Goldsby makes hay with the concept in his charming new piece, "Makin' Hay," at Actors Co-op.

Drawing his story from Moliere's "George Dandin," Goldsby has crafted an intimate, unpretentious show that harks back to the uncomplicated Broadway era of the 1950s.

Whereas Moliere, in typical fashion, used the story of a farmer who marries an aristocrat as a vehicle for sharp-edged social satire, Goldsby's musical takes a less acidic tone in transposing the characters to 1957 Texas. Salt-of-the-earth rancher George (David Atkinson) is having trouble keeping the attention of his wife, Anna Lee (Rory Patterson), a sophisticated city gal who's bored to tears with life on the range. When a smooth-talking lothario (Steven Hogle) catches her eye, suspicious George tries to catch her in an act of betrayal, but she manages to outwit him at every turn.

Drawls and twangs aplenty liven up the show's assortment of light, catchy numbers, which advance the story in well-crafted book musical fashion, with live accompaniment on piano and guitars.

Brisk staging by Linda Kerns keeps things light and flowing, benefiting from particularly fine comic performances from Wendy Shapero and Liz Randall as a pair of country girls who pine for a pair of lunkhead ranch hands (Matt Lowe, Daniel J. Roberts). Singing voices are generally not the strong suit here, the standout exceptions being Patterson and Gina D'Acciaro, an old-school belter who brings real spice to the sarcastic Mexican maid.

For a first outing, "Makin' Hay" is in commendably complete shape, though it calls out for at least one production number. Only in forgoing a tidy emotional wrap-up does the show yield its breezy mood to more contemporary sensibilities -- otherwise, it's an affectionate throwback to simpler times.

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Philip Brandes

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"Makin' Hay," Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 5. $34. (323) 462-8460, Ext. 300. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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The presence of a missing father

A cenotaph is a monument erected to a person whose remains are elsewhere. In his one-man show "Bohemian Cowboy" at the Elephant Lab Theater, Raymond King Shurtz constructs a theatrical cenotaph to his father, Raymond Dean Shurtz, that is as loving as it is unstintingly candid.

In this case, a cenotaph must suffice as memorial. In November 2005, the elder Shurtz parked beside the road and wandered off into the Valley of Fire, a tractless desert some 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. He is presumed dead, but his remains have never been found. "Cowboy" charts Shurtz's father's final footsteps and Shurtz's own faltering journey toward acceptance.

Shurtz repeatedly refers to his father as a "disappearing specialist." Cowboy, carpenter and gifted singer, Shurtz's dad was also a hard-drinking roustabout whose best advice to his son was "Always have a good sleeping bag and a jacket" -- advice that, in the end, did not avail him.

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