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Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja, and Joel Polis in "My Name is Asher Lev" at the Fountain Theatre. Photo by Ed Krieger.

MY NAME IS ASHER LEV: 94% – SWEET

SWEET The play isn’t an undiluted screed on behalf of unfettered art; it depicts the pain Asher’s parents undergo when they become the unwitting subjects of his masterpiece – and the conflicts this causes within the still-mostly-observant Asher. Don Shirley – LA Observed SWEET The story is not so surprising, but given the immediacy and [...]

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE: 84% – SWEET

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE: 84% – SWEET

SWEET The show, directed by David Hyde Pierce following Nicholas Martin’s Broadway staging, opened at the Mark Taper Forum on Sunday in tiptop shape. Indeed, you can mark this down as a shimmering example of an out-of-town production improving the touted original. Charles McNulty – LA Times SWEET An actor must deliver in the here [...]

Brian Dennehy in "The Steward of Christendom" at the Mark Taper Forum. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

THE STEWARD OF CHRISTENDOM (MARK TAPER): 53% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET This devotion to verbal patterning is both his signal strength and conspicuous weakness as a dramatist. In “The Steward of Christendom,” Barry’s 1995 play now being revived at the Mark Taper Forum as a star vehicle for Brian Dennehy, retrospective prose substitutes for dramatic action. Charles McNulty – LA Times BITTERSWEET The playwright’s prose [...]

The cast of "Peter and the Starcatcher" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Photo: Terry Shapiro.

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER (AHMANSON): 77% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET If, in the first act, the wit varies so vertiginously that it flirts with the tiresome, then in a deliriously delicious opening musical number of the second act, the entire cast sings and dances in delectable drag as fish mutated by the pollution of the ocean with starstuff into cross-dressing mermaids. This sort of [...]

Danny Devito and Judd Hirsch in "The Sunshine Boys" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

THE SUNSHINE BOYS (AHMANSON): 64% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET The jokes land with clockwork regularity, but “The Sunshine Boys” is only intermittently successful as a dramatic comedy. The play, in revival at the Ahmanson Theatre, has the dated feel of a vintage sitcom — one that predates even “Taxi,” the series in which the production’s stars, Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch, last performed [...]

Lorenzo Pisoni in "Humor Abuse" at the Mark Taper Forum. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

HUMOR ABUSE: 98% – SWEET

SWEET By keeping its knee-slapping, gasp-inducing and heart-tugging elements in quietly accelerating balance, this Obie-winning solo piece about growing up with the Pickle Family Circus lands an uproarious, astounding and affecting tour de force. David C. Nichols – LA Times SWEET Pisoni’s movements are fluid and effortlessly precise and his prodigious skills are a joy [...]

Amy Brenneman and Lee Tergessen in "Rapture, Blister, Burn" at the Geffen Playhouse. Photo:

RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN: 84% – SWEET

SWEET The chorus of female voices, from the pre-feminist Alice to the post-post-feminist Avery, allows for a multigenerational examination of a subject that is too important to treat in a doctrinaire manner. And it is this freedom of expression, comically maximized by Kull (who steals every scene that she’s in) and crackingly delivered by Dixon, [...]

Tracie Bennett in "End of Rainbow" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

END OF THE RAINBOW: 79% – SWEET

SWEET No real-life tragic heroine has ever gone into that good night quite as ungently as Garland does in “End of the Rainbow,” which manages to send you out wondering whether you’ve just seen a cautionary bummer or a high-on-life theatrical thrill-aganza. Better that we don’t have to decide and can just agree to mark [...]

"Other Desert Cities" at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

OTHER DESERT CITIES (MARK TAPER): 76% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET What should be a perfect storm, alas, isn’t. Working with watchable and often affecting material, Egan and his cast of five feel like they’re trying to wrestle two or three disparate plays into a shapable entity. Despite a career-stretching performance by JoBeth Williams and strong work by the consistently reliable Robert Foxworth, “Other Desert [...]

Amanda Detmer, left, and Sanaa Lathan in "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK: 73% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” would rather be antic than preachy. This is a reasonable if not an entirely necessary trade-off. But Lathan fills out the human dimension of a character Nottage clearly loves too much to weep over. Charles McNulty – LA Times BITTERSWEET The evening at the Geffen is overall something [...]

CHERRY DOCS: 67% – BITTERSWEET

CHERRY DOCS: 67% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET Overall this is a play worth seeing and since it is at one my favorite venues it is definitely worth a trip to Topanga Canyon. Mickala Jauregui – ALittleNightMusic SWEET The inviting natural setting of the Will Greer Theatricum Botanicum could only enhance any play that performs here and that is more so for [...]

Jonathan Groff and Alfred Molina in "Red" at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

RED (MARK TAPER): 94% – SWEET

SWEET Alfred Molina’s volcanic incarnation of painter Mark Rothko is reason enough to rush to the Taper for John Logan’s “Red,” to say nothing of the involving text and visual audacity of helmer Michael Grandage’s impeccably imported Donmar Warehouse production. Bob Verini – Variety SWEET In their finest moments, Logan’s script and Molina’s performance combine [...]

The cast of "The Exorcist" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

THE EXORCIST (GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE): 46% – BITTER

BITTER The physical production is just so much more persuasive than the dramatic encounters contained within it. The casting of Brooke Shields, lovely as always to look at, doesn’t enhance the work’s credibility, although I think she would be terrific in an alternative camp version directed by John Waters. Playing actress Chris MacNeil, the bewildered [...]

"War Horse" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Brinkhoff Mogenburg.

WAR HORSE (AHMANSON THEATRE): 88% – SWEET

SWEET If you can only see one play this year, make it “War Horse.” Jean Lowerison – SDGLN SWEET Yes, it’s sentimental. Yes, there are scenes that might have given even as inveterate a melodramatist as Charles Dickens pause. But this 2011 best play Tony winner, which launched its national tour at the Ahmanson Theatre [...]

LOS OTROS: 46% – BITTER

LOS OTROS: 46% – BITTER

BITTERSWEET “Los Otros” is curious about the manifold layers of personal identity, but in a desultory way that deprives the work of sufficient dramatic pressure. The Southern California lens adds local interest, but that and first-class underscoring aren’t enough to transform these essayistic compositions into riveting theater. Charles McNulty – LA Times BITTERSWEET While some [...]

The cast of "Follies" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit:

FOLLIES (AHMANSON THEATRE): 91% – SWEET

SWEET There’s so much to praise in the blissful Broadway revival of “Follies,” which opened Wednesday at the Ahmanson Theatre on the heels of its numerous Tony nominations, but let’s pay homage first to the sheer sophistication of the show itself. After experiencing “Follies” again — an adult entertainment if ever there was one — [...]

Harold Surratt, from left, Warner Joseph Miller, LeRoy McClain, Pascale Armand and Cheryl Lynn Bruce in Danai Gurira's "The Convert."  Credit: T. Charles Erickson /

THE CONVERT: 89% – SWEET

SWEET The devastating clash between Western culture and religion and African tradition and spirituality is at the heart of this masterful new work. Director Emily Mann has mounted a production that’s as compelling as it is gorgeous. Jennie Webb – Backstage SWEET Brought to life by Emily Mann’s subtle direction, a splendid set by Daniel [...]

"Waiting for Godot" at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

WAITING FOR GODOT (MARK TAPER): 100% – SWEET

SWEET Any chance the Taper could produce more revivals of this caliber? Beckett is no doubt right about the confounding ache of existence, but this “Waiting for Godot” provides theatrical hope. Charles McNulty – LA Times SWEET Michael Arabian’s stunning revival of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” at the Mark Taper Forum never wears the [...]

Yetta Gottesman and Justin Huen in "El Nogalar" at the Fountain Theatre. Credit: Ed Krieger.

EL NOGALAR: 78% – SWEET

SWEET As soon as Gottesman speaks, though, you understand why she was cast; her Maite is charismatic, joyful, insane, a force of nature. Saracho’s boldest update is making the dynamic between Maite and Lopez overtly sexual. After their sadistic, heartbreaking love scene, hauntingly lit by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, I will never be able to look [...]

Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Annie Parisse, Crystal A. Dickinson and Jeremy Shamos in the Playwrights Horizons production of "€œClybourne Park"€ at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum

CLYBOURNE PARK (MARK TAPER): 92% – SWEET

SWEET Can a drama be memorable if all its characters are disagreeable? Bruce Norris proves that it’s possible in “Clybourne Park,” his smart, abrasively funny and fiendishly provocative play that opened Wednesday at the Mark Taper Forum. Charles McNulty – LA Times SWEET Director Pam McKinnon adeptly guides a strong ensemble through Norris’ steady stream [...]

Helen Hunt in "Our Town" at The Broad Stage. Credit: Iris Schneider.

OUR TOWN (BROAD STAGE): 92% – SWEET

SWEET But perhaps the biggest shocker of this “Our Town” is its refusal to bask in amber glows, wallow in folksy sentiments or indulge in shopworn sermonizing. Admittedly, the production’s power would be greater in a more intimate space. Still, this is a stunning theatrical achievement. Cromer throws dazzlingly harsh light on the truth that’s [...]

Kathleen Turner stars as Molly Ivins in the "Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins" at Geffen Playhouse. Photo from Philadelphia Theatre Company production. Credit: Mark Garvin.

RED HOT PATRIOT: THE KICK-ASS WIT OF MOLLY IVINS: 65% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET Kathleen Turner, who portrays Ivins in “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” which opened Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse, can’t quite duplicate the light East Texas drawl. (Turner’s signature husky tone sounds as though she’s been treating a sore throat by gargling with bourbon.) But the veteran actress has that same [...]

David E. Frank, Heather Pasternak, Verna Petrychenka, Kyle Kinder and Troy Dunn in "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times" at City Garage. Credit:

FILTHY TALK FOR TROUBLED TIMES (CITY GARAGE): 63% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET Subtitled “Scenes of Intolerance,” this re-working of Neil LaBute’s 1989 treatise on his normal themes of heterosexual men’s fear-based dominance of perceived lesser beings, namely women and gay men, has been given an extraordinarily intelligent re-thought. Long mistaken as a anti-female misogynist, LaBute’s understandable rage over the way men (and by extension male-dominated religion) [...]

(L to R) Rassaan-Elijah Talu€ Green and Ismael Kouyat in "€œFela!" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Raymond Hagans.

FELA! (AHMANSON RE-MOUNT): 90% – SWEET

SWEET But “Fela!” offers something that only the theater can provide — an immersion in Fela’s music, an encounter with his charismatically frenetic concert presence and a confrontation with his political style. The trade-off, trust me, is worth it. Charles McNulty – LA Times SWEET It’s part biography, part spiritual revival, and part defiant political [...]

Is it Possible to Divorce Ideology from Aesthetics when Writing a Review or a Play?

Is it Possible to Divorce Ideology from Aesthetics when Writing a Review or a Play?

No. I don’t think it is. Nevertheless, I think it is vitally important to try. Or at least understand the difference. Why? Well mostly because I think the ability to do so is what separates a “professional” critic from everyone else. And it is also what separates great plays from good ones. Let me define [...]

Charlayne Woodward in "The Night Watcher" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Credit: Chris Bennion.

THE NIGHT WATCHER (KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE): 93% – SWEET

SWEET “The Night Watcher” can be seen as one woman’s defense of remaining childless. But it’s really about the many ways in which maternal love can be shown in a world badly in need of more guiding hands. Given a tastefully simple production by veteran director Daniel Sullivan on a stage with a simple chair [...]

"Bring It On: The Musical" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Center Theatre Group.

BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL: 68% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER Never have I been so aware of calories burned onstage before. But who goes to a musical to vicariously sweat? “Bring It On” has interminable pep but leaves more discerning theatergoers with little to cheer about. Charles McNulty – LA Times BITTERSWEET Attractive cast, songs and production values will fuel the post-Ahmanson tour, though [...]

Anna Gunn in "Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

RADIANCE: THE PASSION OF MARIE CURIE: 77% – SWEET

BITTER The Geffen Playhouse production has assembled a top-notch cast and secured a fine director, but the show’s mundane recitation of facts and misplaced focus on Curie’s love life fails to become a fitting tribute or quality drama. Terry Morgan – LAist BITTERSWEET The work is exquisitely mounted by veteran director Daniel Sullivan and features [...]

Critique of the Week

Critique of the Week

VIGIL Karen Weinstein – Culture Vulture What a waste of Olympia Dukakis. Mute about 95 percent of the time she is on stage — which is just about the entire two hours — Dukakis (Grace) is stuck reacting nonverbally to Kemp (Marco Barricelli), a miserable and misery-inducing middle-age man. He has ghoulishly responded to a [...]

Olympia Dukakis and Marco Barricelli in the American Conservatory Theater production of "Vigil" at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

VIGIL (MARK TAPER FORUM): 71% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET Eventually, though, the long-threatened sentimentality breaks through all obstacles (including a wild, gutsy Act 2 shocker that nearly turns the whole evening into a sick joke). The ending meanders a little, as though the writer is stalling. That it does wind up being moving owes a great deal to the performances — as well [...]