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Mike Mother, Best of Enemies, The 180 Degree Rule, and eight more stage shows to see now

A Neo-Futurist performance piece, a drama about an almost unimaginable alliance, and a satire of Hollywood's golden age are among the hits this week.

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The Adventures of Reginald Sampson (and the Consequence of Bliss) Upright Citizens Brigade founding member Matt Besser recently scolded comedy critics for lazily falling back on the expression "hit-or-miss" to describe sketch shows, which are by their very nature hit-or-miss. With that in mind, the ratio is more favorable than not in this set at iO by three-member troupe Vienna Juvenile. Their aim is delightfully dark—a simple game of Marco Polo escalates to all-out madness, and in one of the best gags, Layne Dixon tries to get the attention of her husband a la a Tennessee Williams-style breakdown. Too many good jokes have the air let out of them by clumsy pacing and an overreliance on dramatic twists, but the trio strike the right tonal balance in time for an excellent and heartfelt closer. —Dan Jakes

Provision Theater's Best of Enemies - SIMON SORIN
  • Simon Sorin
  • Provision Theater's Best of Enemies

[Recommended] Best of Enemies Based on Osha Gray Davidson's 1996 book, Mark St. Germain's play brings to life the improbable real-life relationship between C.P. Ellis, a Grand Cyclops of the KKK, and Ann Atwater, an African-American civil rights activist. The setting, Durham, North Carolina, in 1971, is fraught with tension around school desegregation. As Ellis, Rod Armentrout exudes a frightening and radical racism that's met its match in Atwater, played take-no-prisoners style by Felicia Fields, a Tony nominee for her performance in the Broadway musical The Color Purple. While chairing a desegregation-focused charrette and trading nasty barbs rooted in baseless stereotypes, the oil-and-vinegar pair develop an empathetic, then friendly understanding that defies societal norms and quickly warms hearts. While the humor is spot-on throughout thanks to Fields's well-timed quips and eye rolls, some scenes feel a bit too short for the drama and characters to develop. —Marissa Oberlander

Collaboraction's Connected - JOEL MAISONET
  • Joel Maisonet
  • Collaboraction's Connected

Connected What starts out as a brief and idiosyncratic history of the cosmos morphs into a sci-fi prophecy of earth's doom in this earnest but scatterbrained show written and staged by Collaboraction artistic director Anthony Moseley. Throughout the piece, a strong emphasis is placed on communication, technology, and humans gathering around campfires, but it's never clear how those themes relate to the script's dire warnings about war and climate change. Moseley's pageantlike staging alternates between portentous declamation and touchy-feely sentiment, with breaks for excruciating interactions with the audience, who are asked to dance, take selfies, and share personal information with the group. The production's overstuffed design elements include movement work, lighting effects, and sophisticated video projections. I'd trade them all in for a little clarity and focus. —Zac Thompson

Rivendell Theatre's Dry Land - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Rivendell Theatre's Dry Land

Dry Land Playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel adds little to the teen-girl zeitgeist of the last couple decades, at least as expressed through self-consciously edgy mass entertainment (think Harmony Korine's Kids). Popular self-described slut Amy and unpopular geek Ester fixate on sex, alcohol, gossip, their bodies, and their likability. Each has a dark secret—Amy's trying to pull off a DIY abortion, Esther's profoundly self-loathing—and their unlikely friendship routinely turns savage under hair-trigger emotional duress. It's all a bit dutiful, and Spiegler's haphazard structure diminishes the play's overall impact. But her articulation of the girls' friendship is masterful, as is director Hallie Gordon's graceful yet gutsy staging for Rivendell. In the lead roles, Bryce Gangel and Jessica Ervin deliver meticulous, affecting performances that eclipse the limited material. —Justin Hayford

Curious Theatre Branch's The Eviller Twin - JEFFREY BIVENS
  • Jeffrey Bivens
  • Curious Theatre Branch's The Eviller Twin

The Eviller Twin Sue Cargill's elusive new play opens with Clothilde (who'll end up earning the show's title) remembering a stern, sexy Jesus appearing on the beach under a "police lamp sun." The two joined hands, built "sand whores," and threw smooth stones at them. Any three-minute section from Cargill's ensuing two-plus hours holds this sort of evocative fancy, often infused with addled religiosity. It's a literary marvel, but theatrically it struggles to find its bearings; the uniform density and rhythm of her language inhibits forward motion, a problem enhanced by this overly deliberate Curious Theater Branch premiere. Director Stefan Brün wisely imbues the potentially whimsical plot—Clothilde's pathological jealousy of twin sister Flavia leads her to absurd extremes--with honest emotions, giving the production unlikely gravity. —Justin Hayford

Raven Theatre's The House of Blue Leaves - TOM MCGRATH/TCMCG PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Tom McGrath/TCMcG Photography
  • Raven Theatre's The House of Blue Leaves

The House of Blue Leaves John Guare's 1971 breakthrough play is a comedy about despair. Complaining that he's "too old to be a young talent," 45-year-old zoo employee Artie Shaughnessy writes bad songs and performs them for oblivious audiences at open mikes. His wife, Bananas, is nuts. His son, Ronnie, ditto. His childhood friend, Billy, is a movie director whose big-time success makes Artie's failures all the more agonizing. The only bright spot in Artie's life is his chaste affair with Bunny—a great cook who nevertheless refuses to feed him unless he runs away with her. The most significant of several problems with JoAnn Montemurro's staging is that it pushes the comedy at the expense of the despair and therefore culminates in a surprise ending rather than a powerful one. For all that, Kelli Strickland supplies an interesting Bananas. But Sarah Hayes tries way too hard as Bunny. —Tony Adler

Lyric Opera's The King and I - TODD ROSENBERG
  • Todd Rosenberg
  • Lyric Opera's The King and I

The King and I Lyric Opera's glittering production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I has everything going for it except the central thing—the sexual chemistry between the King of Siam (played here by Paolo Montalban) and the British widow he imports to teach his numerous children and wives (the vocally gifted Kate Baldwin). That powerful, constrained attraction is the motor that drives everything else, including the obvious plot points about clashing East-West cultures, feminism, slavery, and imperialism. It's sorely missed. Still, there's a wonderful roster of songs like "Shall We Dance" and "Hello, Young Lovers"; an eye-popping ballet version of Uncle Tom's Cabin; and memorable performances by Rona Figueroa as the king's head wife, Lady Thiang; the exquisite Ali Ewoldt as his newest gift, Tuptim; and extraordinary youngster Matthew Uzarraga as the little prince. The production originated at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. —Deanna Isaacs

Jessica Ann's Mike Mother, at the Neo-Futurarium - JOE MAZZA
  • Joe Mazza
  • Jessica Ann's Mike Mother, at the Neo-Futurarium

[Recommended] Mike Mother If what Jessica Anne describes in the course of her 84-minute performance piece is true, she was subjected to hellish psychological torture as a teen, administered by someone she should've been able to trust. That we're not sure it's true is a function of her complex narrative strategy. On one level she's playing with the anti-illusionist precepts of the Neo-Futurarium, where she was an ensemble member for six years. On another, she's messing with us the way she was messed with (but to an infinitely milder degree), setting us off balance with a careful seeding of doubt. On top of all that, she marries her tale to a genuine theatrical fiction—Marsha Norman's 'Night, Mother—which she by turns respects, inverts, and subverts. Interestingly, Mike Mother falls flat only when Jessica Anne and fellow performer Mike Hamilton attempt conventional sincerity. The rest of the time, it's funny, cunning, witty, literally splashy, and exhilarating in its reckless reverence for the truth.
—Tony Adler

Babes With Blades' The 180 Degree Rule - JOHNNY KNIGHT
  • Johnny Knight
  • Babes With Blades' The 180 Degree Rule

[Recommended] The 180 Degree Rule This juicy new play by M.E.H. Lewis and Barbara Lhota is part love story, part mystery thriller, and part acid satire of golden-era Hollywood. The action toggles between the 1930s and 1967, as a film studies professor investigates what became of an obscure female moviemaker. Along the way there are numerous twists—a lesbian love affair, a secret pregnancy, and, when things start to slow down in the second half, a murder involving Nazi sympathizers. Rachel Edwards Harvith's nimble staging for Babes with Blades demonstrates how entertaining good old-fashioned melodrama can be. As a glamorous movie star and the key figure in the film director's life, cast standout Lisa Herceg supplies dry wit, a thick German accent, and just the right amount of camp. —Zac Thompson

The Living Canvas's Cathedrals, part of Stage 773's nudity-themed one-act festival Skin in the Game - CODY JOLLY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Cody Jolly Photography
  • The Living Canvas's Cathedrals, part of Stage 773's nudity-themed one-act festival Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game Nudity is the theme for this year's spring one-act festival at Stage 773. Previous fests have addressed less loaded subjects—Halloween, Chekhov. But fearless actors will rise to any occasion. The veteran Organic Theater Company gives us the futuristic unveiling of a Greta Garbo robot (the "Garbot") that, in keeping with the Garbo mystique, lies in bed naked refusing to go onstage. Right Brain Project and the Ruckus explore modern intimacy from the opposite end of the spectrum, showcasing the fleshly sides of a virginal wedding night and a small-town love triangle, respectively. Hobo Junction Productions' contribution ecstatically reminds us that "private dick," meaning private detective, can also be a sexual pun. And while the night isn't a competition, if it were, the Living Canvas's gorgeous, sensuous color-projection piece Cathedrals would win handily. —Max Maller

Thanks for the Tip at pH Comedy - BEN WIEBERS
  • Ben Wiebers
  • Thanks for the Tip at pH Comedy

Thanks for the Tip You'd think a sketch comedy show about restaurant work written by a former restaurant worker, pH Comedy member Kayce Alltop, would be a comic gold mine, packed with scenes skewering bad customers, insane chefs, and snotty servers. In this case, you'd be wrong. Thanks to Alltop's ham-fisted sketches, Dan Wright's off-kilter direction, and a cast of underrehearsed performers, much of this show falls flat. Too many bits poke fun at predictable targets, though here and there are some wonderful moments: in one pantomimed sequence a sneaky waiter (Jared Miller) creeping around to The Pink Panther theme drops a basket of rolls, then picks it up and serves it to a table of unsuspecting costumers. But the high points are all too rare.
—Jack Helbig

Theatre Y's 3 Sisters - DEVRON ENARSON
  • Devron Enarson
  • Theatre Y's 3 Sisters

3 Sisters Practice patience. It takes at least an hour for this 90-minute Theatre Y production to declare itself definitively. Director Andrej Visky seems headed toward parody in the very early going, with his cast of three (Melissa Lorraine, Katie Stimpson, and Kevlyn Hayes) assuming poses suggesting Victorian melodrama. Then the piece turns into a sort of bullet-points version of Chekhov's great and famous play about provincial angst. Coadapters Visky, Earl H.E. Hill, and Dan Christmann include all the requisite issues and plot elements, but in the manner of a highlights reel, sans conventional textures. Despite some interesting visual touches—a set covered in blue cloth, a lover depicted as red light—things only get interesting in the final movement, when Visky and company go beyond Chekhov's text to provide a sweetly subversive alternate ending to the sisters' story. —Tony Adler


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