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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. [...]

The Visceral Company presents Karen Nicole and Mark Souza in "Recall" at the Lex Theatre. Photo: Company.

RECALL (VISCERAL COMPANY): 80% – SWEET

SWEET Clark is smart to envision a near-future, fear-based world that’s taken its cue from the chilling rash of school shootings that have occurred over the past decade or so—even if Quinn, the loner who befriends Lucy, is a little predictable in his black trench coat and military boots. The current-topicality of it engages. And [...]

Elijah Alexander, center, Amin El Gamal, Katie Pelensky, Jeremy Rabb and Thom Rivera in "Macbeth" at A Noise Within. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

MACBETH (A NOISE WITHIN): 78% – BITTERSWEET

BITTERSWEET Elijah Alexander as Macbeth and Willcox do suggest a lot of sexual passion in their early scenes, but at least at the performance I saw, Alexander’s vocal delivery sounded lighter than expected, almost as if he were undecided about how far to pursue Macbeth’s indecision. Carpenter visually emphasizes that the Macbeths apparently lost their [...]

Sheila O'Connor, Tiffany Dissette, Alexis Field and (top) Eileen Patterson in "50 Shades! The Musical" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo: Davidson Choy.

5O SHADES! THE MUSICAL: 70% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET While this musical parody may never reach the hilarious heights of the gold standard for this sort of japery, The Book of Mormon, confined as it is to a rather pedestrian target, this gleeful cataloguing of flavors of sex beyond plain vanilla hits the giggly bulls-eye with unerring consistency. Myron Meisel – The Hollywood [...]

CLOSELY RELATED KEYS: 78% – SWEET

CLOSELY RELATED KEYS: 78% – SWEET

SWEET Wendy Graf brings the audience a complicated script that deals with a lot more than 9/11 and its catastrophe. Father and daughter relationships and disappointment are just as important to this strong drama. Rose Desena – The Los Angeles Post SWEET Shirley Jo Finney directs her well-chosen cast brilliantly. Morna Murphy Martell – Theatre [...]

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 [...]

Peggy Ann Blow, Kevin Weisman, Carl J. Johnson, and Alana Dietze in "Villon" at the Odyssey Theatre. Photo by Miki Turner.

VILLON: 70% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER A play about a murderous French poet, told by a troupe of vaudevillian-style actors, seems it would be enough to spark some interest in an audience, but unfortunately Murray Mednick’s “Villon” falls seriously flat in its execution. Savannah L. Barker – Neon Tommy SWEET Like Villon’s troupe, these actors make sturdy, faithful companions to [...]

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 [...]

Taraji P. Henson, Seamus Mulcahy, Joe Massingill and Kristopher Higgins in "Above the Fold" at the Pasadena Playhouse. Photo: Jim Cox.

ABOVE THE FOLD: 67% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER Henson wins us over with her likability. She provides glimpses of a conscience that Weinraub runs roughshod over, but unfortunately it’s not enough to keep us emotionally invested in this schematic play. In scoring points, the playwright forgets that in the theater the most compelling battles are the internal ones. Charles McNulty – LA [...]

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 [...]

Alan Richer, Janine Betts, EVet Thompson Olusheyi, Banjo, Brian Beasley and Marla Howard in Cornerstone Theater’s production of "Love on San Pedro". Photo:

LOVE ON SAN PEDRO: 88% – SWEET

SWEET The script’s tone ranges from hilariously funny, to deeply moving, to upsettingly tragic. The play’s emotions are heightened by the fact that the play is founded in reality, and that each of the storylines embodies the experiences of a Skid Row resident. Even as a work of pure fiction, the play would have been [...]

L-R: Will Roland, Harrison Chad, Coby Getzug and Jimmy Brewer in "The Black Suits" at The Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo: Ed Krieger.

THE BLACK SUITS: 54% – BITTERSWEET

SWEET This world premiere musical, now at Kirk Douglas Theatre, manages to get plenty of new wine into very old, if not downright dusty, bottles. The saga of the making of the eponymous garage band soars despite a paper-thin, clichéd plot; derivative character types; and QED themes of friendship and youthful dream-making. What gets it [...]

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 [...]

Geoff Elliott and Jeremy Rabb in “Endgame” at A Noise Within. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

ENDGAME (A NOISE WITHIN): 78% – SWEET

SWEET Both Rabb and Elliott do a great job of balancing the absurdist nature of Beckett’s dialogue with the fact that it is being presented in a real place on a real stage, going overboard when needed in their acting but still bringing the play back to the forefront of the audience’s mind. Angie Fiedler [...]

Brian Dare and Butch Klein in Celebration Theatre's "The Homosexuals" at the Atwater Village Theatre. Photo: Sean Lambert.

THE HOMOSEXUALS: 83% – SWEET

SWEET Each of the six scenes is interesting and entertaining, but there’s little real action and the narrative arc is weak — a fact emphasized by the playing of the scenes in reverse order, à la Merrily We Roll Along. But the piece is largely redeemed by director Michael Matthews’ fine production and excellent performances [...]

Elyse Mirto and Freddy Douglas in "The Guardsman" at A Noise Within. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

THE GUARDSMAN (A NOISE WITHIN): 85% – SWEET

SWEET Toss in a seamless supporting ensemble and first-rate production values, and you couldn’t ask for a finer example of how captivating and downright fun live theater can be. Philip Brandes – LA Times BITTERSWEET Unfortunately, director Michael Michetti’s otherwise handsome revival (on Tom Buderwitz’s elegant set and under Adam Frank’s bravura lighting) can’t quite [...]

LOVECRAFT: NIGHTMARE SUITE (VISCERAL COMPANY RE-MOUNT): 96% – SWEET

LOVECRAFT: NIGHTMARE SUITE (VISCERAL COMPANY RE-MOUNT): 96% – SWEET

SWEET Their unfathomable talent is only met by the masterful stagecraft. Omar Najam – LifeInLA SWEET Their “Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite,” a reinvention of a play the founders put on years ago in a small off-Off Broadway theatre brings the beautifully creepy stories of cosmic horror visionary H.P. Lovecraft to life in a way their previous [...]

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 [...]

Daniel N. Durant in Deaf West's "Flowers for Algernon'" at the Whitefire Theatre. Photo: Ed Krieger.

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON (DEAF WEST): 80% – SWEET

SWEET Good theatre is rare to find, and exceptional theatre is even rarer. While the show’s darker moments are emotionally difficult to watch, it is theatre at it’s finest. It was stunning and heart-wrenching and beautiful. Like a maze, “Flowers for Algernon” is full of challenges and struggles. Deaf West Theatre’s production is worth the [...]

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 [...]

Brett Donaldson and Robert Keasler in "What Kind of God?" at the Lillian Theatre. Photo courtesy of Ted Augustyn.

WHAT KIND OF GOD?: 63% – BITTERSWEET

BITTER A show about corruption, homosexuality, and abuse within the Catholic Church sounds like it would be anything but dull, but unfortunately Steve Julian’s “What Kind of God?” falls painfully flat. It seems one would have to go out of their way to make such a racy subject boring, but the real issue is that [...]

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 [...]

Ta'Rea Campbell, left, Florrie Bagel and Lael van Keuren in "Sister Act" at the Pantages Theatre. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

SISTER ACT (PANTAGES): 90% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET Not a scintillating musical by any means, “Sister Act” offers generic exuberance for a sultry summer night when a groove and a giggle are all that’s required to send audiences home smiling. Charles McNulty – LA Times SWEET From the moment the curtain goes up and our diva is belting out a song (in [...]

Marin Ireland and Carlo Alban in "A Parallelogram" at the Mark Taper Forum. Photo: Craig Schwartz.

A PARALLELOGRAM: 82% – SWEET

BITTERSWEET Like the play as a whole, the talk is more intellectually tantalizing than dramatically meaningful. “A Parallelogram” has the distinction of making us think, but the fruits of this contemplation weren’t for me all that bountiful. Charles McNulty – LA Times SWEET A Parallelogram is a brilliantly mind-boggling play by Bruce Norris that asks [...]

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 [...]

Critique of the Week

Critique of the Week

This critique has some serious giddy-up-and-go to it, plus Liffany is just a cool name. And one I haven’t heard from, I think…ever? Apologies if I have. So it’s this week’s COW. Boom. PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL Liffany Chen – Neon Tommy The musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” adapted 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, [...]