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Katie Buenneke, Editor, Theater Critic, Shipshod Journalist

“Shipshod” Journalism Is Killing Los Angeles Theater Criticism – By Katie Buenneke

Neon Tommy theater editor and critic, Katie Buenneke, had a rather bizarre tussle with a miffed reader who didn’t see the show that Katie reviewed but felt personally offended by the quality of the review anyway. She thought the story had some resonance for the community at large. We agreed. Gonna have to sign this [...]

"In the Heights" at the Cabrillo Music Theatre. Photo: Ed Krieger.

IN THE HEIGHTS (CABRILLO MUSIC THEATRE): 94% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET The production now playing at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks, which is, for all intents and purposes, a regional replica of the Broadway show (the director and a large chunk of the cast were on the second national tour), doesn’t make “In the Heights” bad, but it doesn’t do its source material justice. [...]

Freddy Douglas and Carolyn Ratterey in "Tartuffe" at A Noise Within. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

TARTUFFE (A NOISE WITHIN): 76% – SWEET

SWEET Overall it’s a delightful revival. If the darker nuances at times threaten the cascading hilarity, that won’t prohibit the enjoyment of so swankly appointed, proficiently acted a classical bauble as this representative company melee. David C. Nichols – LA Times SWEET Molière’s “Tartuffe,” which dates back to 1664, is not only a sire of [...]

"Obama Spy Drama" at Acme Comedy. Photo: Kate Hagerty.

OBAMA SPY DRAMA: 90% – SWEET

SWEET With quick-witted writing and a high-octane cast, OSD is the perfect nighttime outing for Angelenos in need of a comic escape. P.P. – LATF SWEET With the Winter Olympics upon us, and recent attempts to reign in NSA spying, the time is ripe for a musical comedy with a Russian accent. And that’s what [...]

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 [...]

The cast of "Passion Play" at the Odyssey Theatre. Photo: Enci.

PASSION PLAY (ODYSSEY/EVIDENCE ROOM): 79% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET If, like me, you’re a fan of the Evidence Room, go to enjoy the familiar faces. Otherwise enjoy the small stuff and forgive the production for not tying everything up. Anthony Byrnes – KCRW BITTERSWEET Despite their many strengths, I found parts one and two curiously uninvolving. It wasn’t until Ruhl came closer to [...]

Denis O'Hare in "An Illiad" at the Broad Stage. Photo: Lawrence K. Ho.

AN ILIAD (BROAD STAGE): 100% – SWEET

SWEET If you’re not already convinced that this is a show you miss at your own peril — Mr. O’Hare’s performance is an hour and 40 minute tour de force. Without giving away too much — he even makes sense out of Homer’s litanies — delivering the poignant reminder that what we’d like to think [...]

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 [...]

Caroline Bowman and Sean MacLaughlin in "Evita" at the Pantages Theatre. Photo: Richard Termine.

EVITA (PANTAGES): 85% – SWEET

SWEET True, the show’s liabilities — protractedly archetypal characters, recounted rather than dramatized events, undistinguished lyrics, incessant reprises of main tunes — have not vanished. Yet what Grandage and Ashford achieve, along with an imposing design scheme and a formidable triple-threat ensemble, largely minimizes those flaws. David C. Nichols – LA Times SWEET You might [...]

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 [...]

Payson Lewis and the cast of "Bare" at the Hayworth Theatre. Photo: Leigh Schindler.

BARE: A ROCK MUSICAL (HAYWORTH THEATRE): 74% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET It’s very possible that glory|struck productions and director Calvin Remsberg have staged a faithful, heartfelt version of ‘bare.’ Unfortunately, due to incredibly poor sound quality, it is impossible to discern what is going on half the time. Any song that features more than one vocalist and more than one instrumentalist (i.e. most of the [...]

and Michael McKean in "Yes, Prime Minister" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

YES, PRIME MINISTER (GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE): 81% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET As a species of farce, this one is unusually wordy, with mouthfuls of exposition laboriously setting up each and every joke. The cast, which includes Michael McKean as the prime minister and Dakin Matthews, Jefferson Mays and Tara Summers as key advisors, is top notch. But the acting takes place almost entirely from the [...]

in "Sleepless in Seattle" at the Pasadena Playhouse. Credit:

SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (PASADENA PLAYHOUSE): 62% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER The 1993 romantic comedy “Sleepless in Seattle” has been turned into a stage musical that can best be described as pointless in Pasadena. Robert Hofler – Variety SWEET Artistic director of the Playhouse, Sheldon Epps, directs his cast adroitly around John Iacovelli’s multilevel set populated with projections and moving wagons. It’s a Broadway musical, [...]

"The Scottsboro Boys" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit:

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS (AHMANSON): 90% – SWEET

BITTER With “Scottsboro,” it doesn’t help that Stroman has pushed her actors, as she did on Broadway, to perform minstrel as if they were in a high-school production, as if egregiously over-the-top bad acting would indicate the genre’s inherent awfulness. It’s curious how a director could make us laugh at the soulless gay characters in [...]

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater presents Maxwell Hamilton and Seth Numrich in "Slipping" at the Lilian Theatre. Credit: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.

SLIPPING: 100% – SWEET

SWEET The deconstructed text is challenging – hopping back and forth in place and time utilizing a plethora of short scenes packed into eighty-five minutes – but the experience is compelling and occasionally shocking (there is also male nudity in this production). Ultimately, the play’s strength lies in its honest depiction of abuse and loneliness. [...]

"The Beaux' Stratagem" at A Noise Within. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

THE BEAUX’ STRATAGEM (A NOISE WITHIN): 84% – SWEET

SWEET For educational value alone, it’s wonderful to see the play produced professionally, but under Julia Rodriguez-Elliot’s direction, A Noise Within’s production makes it clear why the play was so popular back in its day. “The Beaux’ Stratagem” is immensely funny, and it’s quite entertaining to watch such a well-crafted play. Katie Buenneke – Neon [...]

Stephen Anthony and chorus in "Catch Me If You Can" at the Pantages Theatre. Credit: Carol Rosegg.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (PANTAGES/SEGERSTROM CENTER): 67% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER Unfortunately, there’s nothing about “Catch Me If You Can” that inspires a repeat visit. While the cast is working hard, the material they’re working with is too flawed to make the show an enjoyable experience. Katie Buenneke – Neon Tommy BITTERSWEET These tireless touring actors nearly con us into thinking we’re seeing a show [...]

"Wolves" at Celebration Theatre. Credit: Matthew Brian Denman.

WOLVES: 69% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET Director Michael Matthews and his game cast intently embrace the darkness, but Yockey’s newest work doesn’t seem ready to be honored with such a ferociously ardent effort to make it whole. Travis Michael Holder – Backstage BITTER He directs the actors, to the varying degrees that they can take direction, toward real motivations and [...]

Jesse Merlin and David Haverty in "Sketches from the National Lampoon" at the Hayworth Theatre. Credit: Shaela Cook.

SKETCHES FROM THE NATIONAL LAMPOON (HAYWORTH THEATRE): 63% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET Some of that is-nothing-sacred irreverence still haunts the theatrical debut of “Sketches from the National Lampoon” at the Hayworth Theatre, though too often as a ghost of former greatness. Philip Brandes – LA Times SWEET “Sketches From the National Lampoon” is simply a series of revisited goofy blackout skits, no doubt. It has no [...]

"The Gift" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

THE GIFT: 55% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER An appealing and capable cast keeps the flicker of hope alive that Joanna Murray-Smith’s play “The Gift” will be worth our time despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. But by the end of this 90-minute comedy even the actors seem done in by the effort of sustaining the illusion that there’s something important [...]

Micaela Martinez, Kellie Spill, Jackson Tobiska, Keaton Williams and Alex Bueno in  "Triassic Parq: The Musical," at the Chance Theatre. Credit: Doug Catiller / True Image Studio.

TRIASSIC PARQ: THE MUSICAL: 80% – SWEET

SWEET The show’s many charms include playful costumes (by Anthony Tran), vigorous choreography (by Kelly Todd) and the lithe, fearless cast. Margaret Gray – LA Times SWEET It is well worth seeing, wherever you live in Southern California. Daniel Faigin – Observations Along the Road BITTERSWEET The show and its staging are pleasingly wacky and [...]

"Backbeat" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

BACKBEAT: 65% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER The design team turns the Ahmanson stage into a virtual black-and-white movie. It’s nice to look at, but Leveaux never finds a way to piece together the two stories, especially in act two. The Beatles glide upstage and down on a platform, Sutcliffe and Kirchherr move across stage on a series of sofas and [...]

Jessie Austrian, left, Noah Brody and Emily Young in Fiasco Theater's production of "Cymbeline" at The Broad Stage Credit: Ben Gibbs / The Broad Stage.

CYMBELINE (BROAD STAGE): 94% – SWEET

SWEET “Cymbeline” has no business being on anyone’s top 10 Shakespeare list, but it has its glories — most of them outlandish, though a few that are breathtakingly refined. Fiasco’s revival gives us a fair glimpse of both. Charles McNulty – LA Times BITTERSWEET What the company lacks in skill, they make up for in [...]

"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 [...]

"Coney Island Christmas" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

CONEY ISLAND CHRISTMAS: 79% – SWEET

SWEET As with many gifts, the wrapping isn’t much to speak of, in this case a weak framing narrative taken from a Grace Paley short story. But what’s inside – not one but two kid pageants superbly staged by Bart DeLorenzo, and a pan-denominational message – is a jewel to be cherished. Bob Verini – [...]

Erich Bergen and Rachel York in "Anything Goes" at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus.

ANYTHING GOES (AHMANSON THEATRE): 90% – SWEET

SWEET After seeing opening night of “Anything Goes” at that Ahmanson, I’m still humming the tunes this morning. In these dark economic times this top notch Roundabout Theatre Company production is a great pick me up. Jana Monji – LA Examiner SWEET Could tap-dancing possibly be as fun as Rachel York makes it look? She [...]

"Doesn't Anyone Know What a Pancreas Is?" at the Atwater Village Theatre. Credit: Company.

DOESN’T ANYONE KNOW WHAT A PANCREAS IS?: 67% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET The play certainly has potential with some further finessing, but for now, it is a enjoyable, but flawed new work. Katie Buenneke – Neon Tommy BITTERSWEET Real continuously misses rich opportunities to create outrageous conflict, settling instead for more jokes. For now, her short filmic scenes, played out between unnecessary furniture shuffling in interminable [...]

Jason Dechert and Jules Willcox in 'The Doctor's Dilemma' at A Noise Within. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA (A NOISE WITHIN): 85% – SWEET

SWEET Fortunately, in the play’s lively current staging at A Noise Within, director Dámaso Rodríguez and a ready cast ride Shaw’s hobbyhorse themes at a full gallop, blowing past the piece’s occasional stodginess with sheer comical verve F. Kathleen Foley – LA Times BITTERSWEET Shaw’s passionate distrust and satirical takedown of the medical profession is [...]

Jeff Goldblum in "Seminar" at the Mark Taper Forum. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

SEMINAR: 70% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET Theresa Rebeck’s “Seminar” is a sturdy example of a genre that once ruled Broadway but is now more or less defunct: the intellectual light comedy. With its literary lion (Jeff Goldblum) roaring and sniffing out red meat among his writing group’s eager acolytes, “Seminar” is fueled more by plot mechanics than by the thrum [...]