Non-Registered Critics: Margaret Gray

Feb

Witness Uganda

But in the end the performances are what make “Witness Uganda” worth the ticket. The actors who play the Ugandan orphans make the charmingly written roles their own, and everyone in the ensemble, including but not limited to the Grammy-winning artist Ledisi, can really sing.

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Feb

HELLO DOLLY

If the supporting parts and story lines are cheerfully cartoonish, written mostly like ham sandwiches, the cast members bite into them with gusto. Lewis J. Stadlen is consistently entertaining as the curmudgeonly Horace. Nic Rouleau and Jess LeProtto, who play Horace’s dimwitted clerks, and Analisa Leaming and Kristen Hahn as their love interests, are all fun to watch.

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Jan

CULTURE CLASH (STILL) IN AMERICA

…if Lenny Bruce were around now, he’d be doing different jokes. Culture Clash is still in America. What is it thinking right now? It might help us — even if it hurts us — to find out.

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Nov

middle8

The talented Marks, who directed as well as wrote “Middle8,” might benefit from a very severe editor to help him locate the story he wants to tell in this promising material. On the other hand, as one of Adam’s bandmates says of his rock opera, “You can’t possibly cut everything you need to cut.”

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Nov

WINTER SOLSTICE

So why can’t Albert do anything about it but panic and sweat and swallow pills? How is it that fascism, so easy to dismiss in theory, leaves its opponents so helpless when it knocks on the door, smiling and cultured and reasonable? It’s a question we’ve all had plenty of opportunities recently to ask, and fail to answer, and it lends a gripping urgency to this well performed dark comedy.

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Nov

The Little Foxes

Watson, one of L.A.’s busiest intimate-theater directors, has a particular skill for calibrating the emotional clockwork of a group scene. His actors know what to do, where to look, how to react at every moment, so they’re just as entertaining in the background as they are at center stage. John Iacovelli’s sets are almost always spectacular, but the perfection of this one — through a set of glass doors off to the right, he has placed an ingeniously foreshortened dining room, which somehow seats most of the cast — attests to how thoughtfully the Antaeus team conceived and realized this mesmerizing, subtly topical revival.

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Oct

The Other Place

I left with tears in my eyes and a sense of gratitude for whoever laid out the nice straight roads in Anaheim — since my reeling brain wasn’t quite up to any more twists and turns.

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Aug

Three Days in the Country

Marber, an award-winning playwright (“After Miss Julie,” “The Red Lion”) and screenwriter (“Notes on a Scandal”) condensed Turgenev’s action so that it unfolds over three days instead of a month, cutting back the marathon running time to two hours. In the process, he tightened up the banter and sight gags to satisfy a sitcom-soaked audience without resorting to glaring anachronisms.

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Aug

Mutt House

Creator and book writer Tony Cookson leads with his good intentions, flirting at times with the preachy tone of puppet shows aimed at young children. Luckily he also has a playful sense of humor that, like a seasoned dog trainer, invites our trust, smooths any hackles raised by his more far-fetched plot twists and promises a lively romp.

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Apr

An Undivided Heart

…by focusing on the offbeat and knotty intelligence in the writing, and by taking the plot twists in stride, director Chris Fields and the cast do manage to smooth over this rough terrain, making the odd characters ultimately appealing and conjuring an air of suspense.

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Jan

ALADDIN

…this Genie clearly knows how to make us laugh. He’s fabulous and sassy, and his wide-ranging pop culture references and impersonations have been freshened up for a new generation by the book writer, Chad Beguelin.

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Nov

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

A small theater needn’t deliver lavish properties, but the disjointed values here feel like missed opportunities, contributing to a sense that the production, directed by Robin Larsen, is still searching for a unifying vision.

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Nov

Bled For the Household Truth

Cameron Watson directs with his characteristic attention to emotional truth, and he’s particularly deft at staging the scenes in which Pen and Keith come close to connecting. The script, though, is so doggedly committed to its bleak view of human relationships that it requires him to cover the same emotional territory in every scene.

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Nov

Kaidan

A THOROUGHLY ENTERTAINING TRIP… part haunted house, part art installation, part performance-art piece… increasingly wondrous… lovingly designed to engage a variety of senses.

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Oct

Runaway Home

Kamps has a way with dialogue and the Louisiana patois, and under Shirley Jo Finney’s sensitive direction, the actors inhabit their characters with endearing naturalism, even during the expressionistic, poetic interludes. Their conversations are so entertaining that they frequently mask the clanking and grinding of the plot’s gears, at least until the implausible, puzzling denouement.

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Jul

Other Desert Cities

…director Mary Jo DuPrey builds a mounting tension in her cast that gets them through the slower bits, and they’re persuasive not just as individuals but as a family.

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Jun

Les Blancs

That “Les Blancs” remains unfinished is just one of the tragedies of Hansberry’s premature death, but Rogue Machine’s vivid, well-acted production brings her work to life.

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May

The House in Scarsdale: A Memoir for the Stage

Director Michael Michetti moves the action from one disconcerting tete-a-tete to the next seamlessly, at a bracing pace. Elizabeth Harper’s lighting and Tom Ontiveros’ dreamlike projections, a mixture of photographs and line drawings, economically establish time and place, leaving us free to focus on the lyrical, authentic dialogue.

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Apr

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

In the Antaeus tradition of partner casting, the company has a different set of actors performing these roles on alternate nights, conceivably just as wonderful as the cast I saw or more so.

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Dec

ICEBERGS

Randall Arney directs his excellent cast with playful warmth and a keen sensitivity to the generosity and complexity of Smith’s characterizations. The performances feel authentic and lived, and the characters’ rapports convey the richness and surprise of real-life interactions while deepening the play’s themes.

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