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THEATER BEAT

'That Perfect Moment' at NoHo Arts Center

Also showing: 'Hello and . . . Goodbye,' 'The Doctor Despite Himself,' 'Meet Me in St. Louis'

October 09, 2009|David C. Nichols; David Ng; F. Kathleen Foley

May 16, 1969, is the date "That Perfect Moment" seeks to reclaim. No need to notify the principals of Charles Bartlett and Jack Cooper's seriocomic play at the NoHo Arts Center, for it's the sum total of their crafted situation.

That date, immortalized in the poster that dominates the home of Mark and Sarah Vanowen in "lower Van Nuys," was when love-rock band the Weeds played the Venice Pavilion. Ponytailed Mark, lead singer, has arranged a reunion tonight in an attempt to resurrect the past.

Sarah thinks differently, leaving him at the outset, and it's soon clear that the Summer of Love isn't quite as frozen in mind for his fellows as it is for Mark. Former bassist Albert and keyboardist Gabriel have their own issues. The wild card is now-conservative Skip, whose holiday letter sets the formulaic plot in motion.

Director Rick Sparks avoids tricking up the material, doing what he can to make the synthetic honest, and his cast is capable. Tait Ruppert keeps Mark sympathetic within the juvenilia; Bruce Katzman turns Skip into a solid foil. Guerin Barry wrings subtlety from Gabriel's gay urbanity, Kelly Lester offers adept double duty as underdeveloped Sarah and agent Woodley, and John Bigham is a hoot as cosmic Albert.

Yet merely the hilarious video footage of the young Weeds (courtesy of designer Adam Flemming) exposes unexplored narrative areas, especially given Sky Keegan's zingy original songs. "That Perfect Moment" has its moments, but they don't add up to much.

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"That Perfect Moment," NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 8. $25. (323) 960-7745. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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David C. Nichols --

'Doctor' a wacky take on Moliere

Post-commedia antics are the prescribed treatment in "The Doctor Despite Himself" at Electric Lodge. Ipanema Theater Troupe's wacky take on Moliere's 1666 "Le Medecin malgre lui" is awash in slapstick aplomb.

That is obvious from the pre-show intrusion by woodcutter Sganarelle (Charles Fathy) and bickering Martine (Clara Bellar), his shrewish wife, as we take our seats.

Their Punch-and-Judy combat leads to Martine's revenge -- giving her thick-headed spouse his comeuppance by passing him off as a learned physician. The plan backfires, to put it mildly.

In director Guru Monteiro's hands, "Doctor" gambols about the black-box setting as though it's a tony Second City workout. The translation by Bellar and the cast is slight but serviceable, and designer Swinda Reichelt's costumes must be seen to be believed. Constructed of foam-core and stretchy elements, the outfits merge circus whimsy with a structural extravagance that suggests pet chew toys come to life.

Fathy's deadpan drollery and Bellar's amiable hectoring are in the classic style, albeit overextended. Raquel Brussolo gets ample mileage from the statuesque figure and blond locks of her tarty nursemaid to ingenue Lucinde (also Bellar), whose muteness provides Sganarelle's big test.

She and inamorato Leandre (Brad Schmidt) wear campy color-coordinated cat suits, and Steven Houska's various authority figures go from loopy to loopier in farcical form and function.

It is not really satirical, apart from a running list of treatments that directly reflects the current healthcare debate. But the company's main objective is unassuming silliness. As such, "Doctor" is enjoyable, even if Moliere's wit plays second fiddle to the wardrobe.

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David C. Nichols --

"The Doctor Despite Himself," Electric Lodge Performance Space, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 8. $20. (310) 823-0710. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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'Hello' looks at early AIDS crisis

Arthur Meiselman's "Hello and . . . Goodbye," written in 1991 and currently revived by the American Latino Theatre, provides an intriguing time-capsule look back at the AIDS crisis. This modest drama, played as a series of telephone conversations, admirably avoids easy emotional resolutions, but its two main characters remain stubbornly vague and out of focus.

Danny, a single gay man living with AIDS, is on a self-destructive bender while making random telephone calls to his friends at 2 in the morning. One day he receives a call from Sandra, a woman who also has AIDS and is part of a social outreach group called the Friends Project.

"Hello and . . . Goodbye!" carries the faint whiff of an uplifting public-service drama, but there's enough emotional ambiguity to keep the audience off balance. Most of it comes from Danny -- an actively unpleasant character who seems intent on alienating everyone.

Performed by a rotating cast, the production (directed by David Llauger-Meiselman) features English- and Spanish-language nights. The English-language performance seen by this reviewer starred Alfredo Maduro and Jennifer Plascencia, both of whom plunged into their roles with ferocity.

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