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Men behaving gayly

September 18, 2009|David C. Nichols; F. Kathleen Foley;

Pungent insight infiltrates ". . . Men" in its American premiere at Celebration Theatre. Author Joe DiPietro wrestles Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 classic "La Ronde" into modern gay male territory, and achieves a wider reach than you'd expect.

". . . Men" (its first word is unprintable here) echoes Schnitzler in its 10 duologues, with each new player continuing to the next encounter. Accordingly, director Calvin Remsberg begins with his cast converging on designer Tom Buderwitz's trapezoid units

Amid much turntable noise, they spin the set open, leaving Brian Dare's pragmatic call boy and Johnny Kostrey's latent GI to launch the proceedings with humor and intensity.

No one will mistake DiPietro for Shaw, but he sustains an accelerating complexity, with striking interstitial use of key dialogue. Apart from some clunky transitions, Remsberg expertly stages this intimate play, aided by designers Jeremy Pivnick (lighting), Lindsay Jones (sound) and Daavid Hawkins (costumes).

Despite variants of technique, the ensemble is fearless, casual with the nudity, invested in the stakes. The sauna dalliance between Kostrey and Mike Ciriaco's graduate student leads to a vivid Michael Rachlis, whose riotous college stoner contrasts with Sean Galuszka's understated Internet pick-up. Galuszka and the never-better David Pevsner as longtime partners -- perhaps DiPietro's most pertinent sequence -- are easily worth admission.

Jeff Olson sensitively trumps stereotypes as the porn star, while A.J. Tannen does yeoman work to make his insecure playwright less contrived than he's written. If Chad Borden's closeted A-lister feels impersonated rather than inhabited, his showdown with Gregory Franklin's affecting talking head may still resonate with more Industry pros than will cop to it.

Ultimately, so should this elegant, engrossing roundelay.

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David C. Nichols --

". . . Men," Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 25. $25. (323) 957-1884. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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'Ruby' thins out in final scene

Director Jon Lawrence Rivera, longtime head of Playwrights' Arena, helms one of the most genuinely eccen- tric productions of the season in "Ruby, Tragically Rotund," Boni B. Alvarez's world premiere at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Mostly, that's a good thing, but we are ultimately victims of a bait-and-switch.

The play starts out as a lighthearted comedy about Ruby (delightful Ellen D. Williams), a "big girl" of Filipina descent whose spirit is as big as her bountiful body. Ruby is hounded to "reduce" by her slim mother, Edwina (Fran de Leon), who dotes on Ruby's slender sister, Jemmalyn (Marc Pelina, oddly but amusingly in drag).

Ruby's slenderness-challenged gal pals, played by Regan Carrington, Alison M. De La Cruz and Angel Felix, act as a perky Greek chorus, commenting on the action in flawless unison. The comic stakes are raised when Ruby, hoping to win a college scholarship, competes against her sis in the Miss Sunnyvale beauty pageant.

There's a movie-of-the-week predictability to the premise that is fortunately ameliorated by Rivera's sprightly staging and a talented cast, which includes Robert Almodovar, Kacy-Earl David and Mark Doerr. To his credit, Rivera commits fully to his material -- but his energies are thanklessly expended in the weird and wild final scene, a denouement that has the unfortunate smell of misogyny about it and vitiates all the character and plot development that have come before.

It's fine to shake up your audience, but not if the tran- sition to tragedy is so bi- zarrely unmotivated. Uncertain whether to laugh, cry or yawn, we wind up feeling merely pranked.

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F. Kathleen Foley --

"Ruby, Tragically Rotund," LATC, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 11. $30. (213) 489-0994, Ext 107. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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A sprawling border drama

"Visitors' Guide to Arivaca" derives as much from factually informed intent as rampant topicality. Evangeline Ordaz's heartfelt, much-researched response to the immigration debate operates from a decidedly populist perspective.

Commissioned by Borderlands Theatre in Tucson, Ariz., the action transpires around Arivaca, located on the southern Arizona border. It's a targeted entry point for Valente (appealing Justin Huen), a migrant worker who has seen his wife, Linda (the touching Marissa Garcia), roughly six months out of their two-year marriage. This time, Linda refuses to wait out the uncertainty until Val returns and takes off with him.

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