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Ingrid Wilmot Rates
Southern California Theater
and Restaurants
Call Ingrid at (310) 377-7680

- Absolutely must see
- A wonderful evening of theater
- An excellent evening of theater
- A good show, but not great
- Mediocre, but better than no theater at all
No Stars - Do something else or stay home

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HANDLE WITH CARE by Jason Odell Williams

Imagine how the sounds of Jingle Bells and the whirr of dreidels might mingle, in this sweet "Hanumas" story, combining the Christmas and Hanukkah season into a broth of love, fate, humor and co-incidence, tasty as home made chicken soup. The scenes take place in a third rate motel room in Virginia (set by David Potts), on Christmas Eve, where a frantic, young Israeli woman, Ayelet (Charlotte Cohn) spouts off in agitated Hebrew. She and her grandmother (Marcia Rodd) are touring the U.S. and checked in the previous night. (The action alternates between December 23rd and 24th). It seems that something very, very important in a box, has been lost (you'll soon find out what that is), when the driver, Terrence (Jeff Marlow) of the stolen delivery van carelessly left the key in the ignition while at a gas station. Terrence, not the brightest star in the firmament, calls his good buddy, Josh (Tyler Pierce) to hurry over and help him out of the dilemma, not the least of which is that the distraught Ayelet speaks only a few words of English.

Directed with a romantic and humorous touch by Karen Carpenter, this West Coast premiere is the ideal holiday entertainment for all ages and faiths. Playwright Williams, himself a gentile is, in real life, married to our Ayelet (Cohn), who was a Lieutenant in the Israeli army. A tall, slender woman with a gorgeous head of black hair, she gives a multi-faceted performance, which you will enjoy even more if, by chance, you understand Hebrew. Rodd is warm and appealing as her bubbie (grandma) and the good-looking Pierce, as the reticent Josh, hides his loneliness behind a veneer of disinterest, which makes him all the more deserving of affection. It rests upon Marlow, as the lame-brained hick, to make us laugh at his lines of pure comic gold and he delivers them as though they were written just for him. Dianne Graebner deserves credit for costumes, Drew Dalzell for sound and Jared A. Sayeg for lighting design. To put you in an ecumenical holiday mood, see this show!

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street, at Cyress, Burbank. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday at 3 pm, Sundays 2 pm (dark Thanksgiving week) $20 - $49. Free parking at the theatre entrance in the Burbank Town Center Mall building. (818) 558-7000 ext. 15 or The Colony Theatre ends 12/14

WRITEN BY INGRID WILMOT



REASONS TO LIVE by Meryl Cohn

Meet the Silverstein Family. They're each a little nutty but who wants to see a play about perfectly normal folks? The mother, Stella (Judith Scarpone) is not your kvetschy Jewish mother. She breaks into song in time of stress and encourages the family chorus and delivers some pungent lines. She accepts her lesbian daughter, Emily (Amanda Weier) and welcomes her lover Heather (Jordana Berliner) with open arms. She's a little harsher and who can blame her, on her son, Andrew (Michael Cotter), a real shlump who walks around in pajamas all day. Don't ask what he does for a living! When the eldest daughter, Jane (Jessica Ires Morris) is left at the altar, Stella doesn't throw in the tea towel, au contraire, she's ready to plan another party, utilizing the pre-paid caterer. It's all very light weight but fuelled by the fact that it keeps the audience guessing as to who will end up with whom.

Directed by Susan Morgenstern, the ensemble is on its toes, in costumes by Sofia Radin, with set and lighting credited to Jeff McLaughlin. Morris, the jilted bride, plays it with the right gallows humor. Weier and her partner Berliner, are a credible, same-sex pair. Katherine Griffith as the massive, mannish Cousin Helen, tipples her way through some comic bits. The statuesque Jennifer Schock as Tara, a single, young woman whose biological clock is about to sound the alarm is appealing and the bespectacled Cotter is ideally cast as the typical adult son, still living with mama. Speaking of whom, it's Scarpino who makes this show worth seeing.

Skylight Theatre (a Skylight Theatre Company and Open Fist Theatre Production) 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles 90027. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm $30 Metered street parking or in nearby lots, from $4. (213)7617061 or The Skylight Theatre ends 11/30

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT

For Ingrid Wilmot's Dining Reviews, please visit Footlights and click on dining. Thank you.



ZEALOT by Theresa Rebeck

Pulitzer Prize finalist and Peabody Award winner, Theresa Rebeck, has penned a work with meat on its bones, the sort that's destined for discussion on the way home and beyond. It's intensely political and unabashedly feminist, directed by Rebeck specialist and SCR's Artistic Director Marc Masterson. We are in the office of the British Consul (sharp set by Ralph Funicello), in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It's the first day of Hajj, the sacred holiday gathering of Muslims from around the world. The American Under-Secretary of State, Ann (Charlayne Woodard) checks in, straight from the airport, expecting a major "situation". Sure enough, soon a young Shiite girl, Marina (Nikki Massoud) arrives, seeking asylum from persecution for a "crime" she instigated among Muslim women demanding their rights against oppression. She seeks sanctuary in the United States via Madame Under-Secretary. I won't give away just what her offense was but a diplomatic fiasco threatens to descend upon the hard-pressed Consul, Edgar (Alan Smyth).

The performances are superb, thanks to Casting Director Joanne DeNaut's expertise. The fact that Ann is an African-American woman and herself a Muslim, lends the play a certain edge that heightens the suspense of what is about to happen. Woodard dives into the role passionately, fiercely -whether sparring verbally or going mano-a-mano with her opponent. The excellent Smyth relishes his position as a long-term resident and friend of the Saudis, with established connections, including an Arab leader named Usama (Demosthenes Chrysan) in full mufti, white robes, headdress, the works (costumes by Alex Jaeger). Edgar resects Usama as a father figure and is concerned at his outrage over the occurrence at the Hajj, as he places full blame on the timid but determined Marina, the titular zealot. She, in turn, is thoroughly convincing as a young Iranian woman, fanatically devout and dedicated to her cause at any cost. Smyth shines as the frazzled Consul, his boyish charm belies the fact that he is ever aware of the government he represents and is the consummate diplomat caught in a tough spot. Adam El-Sharkawi's job as the servant Yousef, consists mostly of serving tea but he does it well. SCR has scored a coup by landing this world premiere and does itself proud with an outstanding production. You will be fascinated, enlightened and entertained.

South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa 92626. Sundays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays, Nov 2, 4, 5, 9, 11, & 12th at 7:30 pm. Thursday - Saturday Oct 30 & 31. And Nov 1, 6th through 8th , 13th through 15th at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday Nov 1, 2, 8, 9,15,16 at 2:30 pm (dark Sunday evening 11/16) $22-74. Parking garage located on Park Center Drive, off Anton Blvd. (714)708-5555 or The South Coast Rep. Theatre ends 11/16 after matinee

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



GLORIOUS! by Peter Quilter

The answer to the question "How does one get to play Carnegie Hall?" is, usually, Practice! Practice! Practice! - Except in the case of Florence Foster Jenkins: you rent the hall for yourself. The story of this wanna- be opera diva with a tin ear and an awful voice is humorously told and expertly performed. Based on the true story of a woman of inherited wealth who managed to pack her concerts with invited audiences, sold thousands of 78 rpm records and whose childlike personality charmed all who knew her (1868 - 1944).

Directed by Richard Israel with the right, light touch, it starts as Madame Jenkins (Eileen Barnett) engages her new accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Matthew Wrather) who, after listening to her for a few minutes, is ready to bail. She can't sing but her money talks. She has a boyfriend/manager, St. Clair (Leland Crooke), a failed Shakespearean actor, who endures as both with the help of steady doses of Johnny Walker. Unfailing support is supplied by her ditzy, best friend Dorothy (Janellen Steininger), whose speaking voice is almost as shrill as Flo's operatic vocals. Good for a million laughs is Carol Abney as the mouthy Latina maid, Maria, who speaks and swears only in Spanish. She also doubles as a serious heckler, (A wig of a different color would not be amiss for that role). The best lines are uttered by Wrather's Cosmé. He has a kind heart, is bemused rather than contemptuous and all of his tongue in cheek, double entendres are stabs with a blunted knife, example: the concert was an "unqualified" success. The wonderful Barnett is both loveable and laughable in her outlandish costumes (by Kim DeShazo), which were all designed by Madame herself. Barnett manages to hide her own fine voice with off-key caterwauling, to perfection. My only criticism is that she's almost too attractive. Jenkins, whose portrait is displayed in the theatre lobby, was the typical fat lady who sings 'til it's over. True opera devotees, who know what the Queen of the Night aria (Magic Flute), the Laughing Song (Fledermaus) etc., should sound like, will love this show even more. Thankfully, we are treated to the taped, beautiful voices of famous opera singers before the show and during intermission. Glorious! Leaves us with the good feeling that seemingly impossible dreams can actually come true but if there were rodents in the building, as my grandmother would say, they probably left as fast as they could scurry out.

International City Theatre, Center Theater at Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach 90802. Thursday -Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm, $42 -$47. Parking $10. Drive down Pine Avenue, turn left on Seaside Way, follow the posted signs, structure is on the right. (562) 436-4610 or International City Theatre ends 11/2

PLEASE NOTE: PRE-PERFORMANCE DINING SUGGESTIONS WILL NO LONGER FOLLOW THE THEATRE REVIEWS ON Will Call. INSTEAD, INGRID WILMOT'S RESTAURANT REVIEWS AS" THE DINING SCENE", WILL BE ON A DIFFERENT WEBSITE, Footlights AND MAY, IN FUTUTRE ALSO APPEAR IN FOOTLIGHTS THEATRE PROGRAMS. I'LL KEEP YOU IN THE LOOP, INGRID

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT by Peter Lefcourt

This has been the summer of laughs, a cure-all for our anxieties over the world situation, immigration concerns, sudden weight gain etc. Go and see Lefcourt's irreverent comedy about a divorced couple who, after a few years' separation, have a get-together with their former spouses to which they bring their new mates. It's all about marriage, infidelity, designer shoes, cross- dressing and sex. The whole story is narrated by the adorable Ishmael (impish Blake Silver), a little dynamo, who introduces himself as the Greek chorus and underpaid cast member. Watch him as a French waiter and pay attention to his graduation speech. He even makes the exposition entertaining and informs us of what is happening off-stage. The formerly married, Teddy (Robb Derringer) and Esme(Robin Riker), plan to discuss their son's graduation. Esme is now married to Bernard (John Marzilli), a currently unemployed TV producer. Teddy lives with Robyn (Sean Smith) and it becomes immediately apparent he did not fall for Robyn's good looks. Robyn is British, very well mannered and supposedly of royal lineage. Nevertheless, the old flame begins to flicker and glow anew between the two ex-partners which, in addition to a sexy pair of Fluevog pumps (in the same price range as Jimmy Choos). Gets emotions and other things to rise. The less you know in advance about this foursome, the more you will relish the situations and complications that develop in the course of two acts. The cast is impeccable. The handsome Gynecologist, Teddy (Derringer), who during sixteen years of marriage only cheated twice, must have had endless opportunities for a little on the side. The pretty Riker is irresistible and her new husband (Marzetti), although at a disadvantage, never gives the impression of a wimp sans cajones. Smith's English accent ebbs and flows like the tide and needs work. Other wise the portrayal of the live-in lover who can be critical but never bitchy, is perfect, while being a veritable fountain of hilarious expressions, verbal and facial. This world premiere is directed, with a Lubitsch touch, by Terri Hanauer (the playwright's real life wife) and the sparkling, up-to-the-minute dialogue keeps us chuckling. Special applause goes to Dino Herrmann's sound effects and Michael Gend's lighting but especially to Peter Lefcourt for not always being politically correct.

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles 90025. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm. $25 - $30. Parking in front $3. (323)960-7712 or Plays 411 ends 8/27

By Ingrid Wilmot

PLEASE NOTE: PRE-PERFORMANCE DINING SUGGESTIONS WILL NO LONGER FOLLOW THE THEATRE REVIEWS ON Will Call. INSTEAD, INGRID WILMOT'S RESTAURANT REVIEWS AS" THE DINING SCENE", WILL BE ON A DIFFERENT WEBSITE, Footlights AND MAY, IN FUTUTRE ALSO APPEAR IN FOOTLIGHTS THEATRE PROGRAMS. I'LL KEEP YOU IN THE LOOP, INGRID


PLEASE NOTE: PRE-PERFORMANCE DINING SUGGESTIONS WILL NO LONGER FOLLOW THE THEATRE REVIEWS ON Will Call. INSTEAD, INGRID WILMOT'S RESTAURANT REVIEWS AS" THE DINING SCENE", WILL BE ON A DIFFERENT WEBSITE, Footlights AND MAY, IN FUTUTRE ALSO APPEAR IN FOOTLIGHTS THEATRE PROGRAMS. I'LL KEEP YOU IN THE LOOP, INGRID


DIXIE'S TUPPERWARE PARTY by Kris Andersson

If Tupperware Parties had been this much fun, back in the days of my first one, I'd have bought the entire stock! Dixie Longate, according to the program bio, is a tippling Alabama trailer trash type, widowed three times, who left her brood (three kids) back home, to become everyone's favorite Tupperware Lady. Her parties have taken her to New York, London and Melbourne. So here he is, the playwright, in a big, curly, red wig, tight fitting, little dress with a white neck scarf that cleverly hides his Adam's Apple and who shall be referred to as "she" hereafter. Dixie may well be the most feminine being in the Little Audrey Theatre. The smart direction is by Patrick Richwood, lighting design by Richard Winkler. Everybody gets a nametag, an order blank and a pen, just like at a real Tupperware party. Dixie involves the audience members relentlessly, often picking on them with good humors salty quips and split-second ad-libs. She prattles on at a hundred miles per hour, in a Southern accent thicker than cold molasses, all the while demonstrating and pitching her merchandise. She spouts homilies, hates the Internet, sings the Tupperware song, holds raffles to give away some "plastic shit", as she calls it and amuses us non-stop. The dialogue is mostly off-color but never offensive and if you're a good sport and up for some laughs, this is a party to which you definitely want to be invited. You'll be whistling "Dixie" all the way home.

Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood 90024. $55 - $60, Wednesday - Friday 8 pm, Saturday 3 and 8 pm, Sunday 2 and 7 pm. No intermission. Paid parking in adjoining underground garage. (310) 208-5454. The Geffen PlayhouseEnds 8/3

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A newcomer to Westwood Village is FRIDA, formerly called Casa Azul, a Mexican cantina with a sophisticated menu. This is not your neighborhood Mexi joint, where you can stock up on combinaciones for a few Pesos. You'll be hard pressed to find an entrée for less than twenty bucks. If that doesn't turn you off, you can take your pick among salmon a la diabla with chipotle cream sauce; skirt steak, chicken, chorizo and cheese and many more temptations of the unusual sort. I must tell you that I had a disappointing dinner at the mother ship, Frida in Beverly Hills, a few years ago, never to return. But. I swear by Frida's moustache, the food here is really flavorful, they've now grown to a half dozen locations and hired a talented Executive Chef. One of my favorite dishes is chochinito pibil, pork chunks baked in a banana leaf. Nobody serves it in the leaf anymore because, as a Mexican chef recently told me, many people tried to eat it! It comes in annatto sauce with a scoop of rice, a boat of black beans and a cup of habanero relish, which will ignite your palate like an out of control wild fire, so be warned, $21.95. If you're looking for a cool, summertime treat, their ceviche tasting is unbeatable, at $18.95. Three water glasses filled to the brim with chilled, crunchy veggies and marinated fish and seafood. The Resurado with jumbo shrimp, onions and avocado; the ceviche Frida with whitefish, crisp jicama and carrot strips; the Tropical, too fruity for my taste, shrimp marinated in spicy orange-lime juice with mangoes and cucumbers. At table, with the chips, are two fabulous salsas, one green, cilantro flavored, the red rife with cumin and hot chilies. We poured them over the Tropical to combat the offending sweetness but hey, you may love it just the way it is. This big portion sadly left no room for one of Mexico's best desserts, pastel de tres leches, $8.95. Next time! Service is pleasant but it's the attentive manager on his frequent rounds, who makes sure you're a happy camper.

Frida, 10853 Lindbrook Drive, Westwood 90024 . Full bar. Tight street parking or valet, $8. (310) 208-1666.



FAMILY PLANNING by Michelle Kholos Brooks

You've heard of cash-rapped, grown kids moving back to their parents' house. But this is a switch, Sidney (DeeAnn Newkird) and Michael (Jack Sundmacher), are a young, married couple, living in the lovely home (set by David Potts), formerly inhabited by her parents, Larry (Bruce Weitz) and Diane (Christina Pickles), both now divorced. Michael is struggling to get his new business off the ground; she is, at the moment, barefoot and pregnant, after several miscarriages. Love and stress abound equally in the household but the scales tip when the old folks, broke and no longer bound to their second spouses, move back in. Oy vey! Dad's become a vegetarian.is into yoga and probably into the instructor, as well. Diane is the typical, pain-in-the-ass controlling mom and the most important person in her own life. The two of them fight, not like the proverbial cats and dogs, which now seem to co-exist peacefully, no, this is more like verbal germ warfare. While the outcome of this ménage a quatre is not exactly unpredictable, the getting there is all the fun.

Family Planning is very well written and constructed with not one word of the witty repartee wasted by the award winning, Los Angeles based Kholos Brooks. Directed by the well-regarded Cameron Watson, this light-hearted comedy gives each actor a chance to polish their characters' loveable as well as despicable, traits. As the anxious son-in-law, Sundmacher is doing his best to retain some civility but who can blame him when he doesn't? His wife, (Newkirk), struggles admirably, to cope with her feelings of mixed loyalty. The wonderful Pickles owns the part of the selfish mother and still manages to enchant us with her unique stage presence. Weitz, as the quirky dad with a short temper, has a twinkle in his eye and never fails to get laughs. The play, consisting of multiple scenes is performed sans intermission, making ninety minutes fly by, while we can't wait to see what will happen next. Costumes are designed by Kate Berkh, sound and original music by Steven Cahill. The Colony presents this world premiere as the first of its 40th season, a Happy Anniversary, indeed!

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street at Cypress, Burbank 91502. Thursday -Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. $20 - $9. Free parking in building garage. (818) 558-7000 x 15 or The Colony Theatre ends 8/10

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A couple of blocks from the Colony is the Brazilian churrascaria PICANHA. I have to say that the ingestion of pounds of meat sliced tableside from a skewer, no longer appeals to many of us. Therefore, may I suggest, you go the buffet route. You'll save a bundle and won't be in need of a siesta when you leave. Not that you'll be hungry. For $16.95 (less on weekdays), there's a colorful salad bar with fresh spinach leaves, tomato and cucumbers, tuna salad, pickled onions, corn and, for a Mediterranean touch, tabouli (too dry) and a tahini dip. Everything has labels but you can't always trust them, the "Asian chicken salad" was actually cole slaw with no chicken. But wait, there's more. Against the wall opposite the various salad dressings, is a line-up of hot food, including fluffy, white rice, divine, red skin, garlic mashed potatoes, black beans, zucchini Provencal, beef stew (tough) and a delicious chicken Stroganoff with mushrooms, in a creamy, tomato tinged, sauce. I didn't even try the watermelon salad. There's also a bowl of yucca flour, which Brazilians love, which reminds me of sawdust. This is a large, tastefully designed space to which you will be welcomed by a charming and attentive host. Service is so-so, the fantastic little bread balls with parmesan cheese in the dough, took forever (and three requests) to arrive and I'm still waiting for our server to find out the English translation of the restaurant's name.

Picanha, 269 E. Palm Avenue, Burbank 91502. Full bar. Free parking in adjoining garage. (818) 972-2100

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT

PLEASE NOTE: PRE-PERFORMANCE DINING SUGGESTIONS WILL NO LONGER FOLLOW THE THEATRE REVIEWS ON Will Call. INSTEAD, INGRID WILMOT'S RESTAURANT REVIEWS AS" THE DINING SCENE", WILL BE ON A DIFFERENT WEBSITE, Footlights AND MAY, IN FUTUTRE ALSO APPEAR IN FOOTLIGHTS THEATRE PROGRAMS. I'LL KEEP YOU IN THE LOOP, INGRID



I'M NOT JUST A COMIC GENIUS by Art Shulman

Prolific local playwright Art Shulman, has given us another theatrical treat worthy of his previous hits (The Rabbi and the Shiksah, Rebecca's Gamble), with a story built around a complicated father/daughter relationship, starring Morry Schorr as dad David and Michelle Tannen as his daughter, Judy. He is recently widowed and agoraphobic but she manages to goad him into trying his hand at playwriting. As his thoughts flow, we see his creations come to life on stage, aided by a versatile cast assuming multiple roles. Outstanding among them is Karen Knotts who, with the help of a few wigs and raw talent, portrays a hooker, a frustrated moderator, an eight year old child etc., etc. with equal aplomb. In between the half dozen playlets, we get some insight into David and Judy's evolving feelings for one another, while being entertained by the different characters of David's imagination. The opener is a hilarious graveside gathering of assorted mourners (Knotts, Jerry Weil and Lindsay Nesmith), who meet for the first time. Next is a play reading and discussion in a small theatre that spares no one, especially the director (Weil), which is criticized by Judy as "too wordy". Therefore, David's next, a hooker/john story, is monosyllabic but with a snappy finish, as are all his one-acters. A restaurant setting has us witness a comical blind date situation (Knotts with the hunk-y Anthony Marquez) followed by a scene of a little girl's lemonade stand, with a cop for a father (Weil) and two thirsty customers (Nesmith and Marquez), a perfect comedy noir. Finally, things get a little raucous at the Kardashian Drama School's Spelling Bee (with Nesmith, Marquez and Weil), which had the audience convulsed with laughter. The play ends on a more serious but quite touching, note. Through it all, Schorr carries the show with natural grace and an endearing style, under the apt direction of Rick Shaw.

Secret Rose Theatre, 11246 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood 91601. Friday and Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $22, seniors $17, students under 26, $10. Street parking or in metered lot across the street. (818) 465-3213 or A Comic Genius ends 7/27

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: You're going to enjoy a terrific meal at BOW & TRUSS, about a two minute ride from the Secret Rose. The name had me puzzled (I thought, maybe the chef has a hernia) but was told bow and truss is an architectural term describing the shape of the roof of the former garage. At any rate, there's a large garden patio in the front and a not unattractive interior with an exhibition kitchen and a center bar, framed by brick walls. The caring service and fair prices will win you over immediately. Happy Hour extends until 7 pm (even on Saturdays), with a glass of wine starting at $6 (usually $8). Exciting cocktails and $2 off most menu items. The cuisine has an intriguing Latin accent (Spanish paella is a specialty), with some uncommon offerings. I had my mouth all set for the Basque clams but they were sold out. The consolation prize, ceviche, made up for the disappointment. Picturesquely presented on a crumbed, baked avocado half, shrimp and tiny bits of scallops, nicely marinated, are topped with crisp, shoestring tortilla strips, a side of cherry tomato vinaigrette and a ribbon of Peruvian style aji sauce decorating the plate, a photo-op, $10. Merguez meatballs, four tangerine size, ground lamb balls, exquisitely flavored with Moroccan spices, garnished with mint-y, pickled onions, sitting in yoghurt puddles, were yum also, as were the half dozen, grilled asparagus spears with sliced caper berries and sheep's milk yoghurt, $9. They have salads, pork belly, a cheese board and assorted tacos, filled with beef, chicken, pork or lamb, $9 and much more. Remember, you get two bucks of most of the above at pre-theatre time, so you may want to spring for an $8 dessert, unless you're too stuffed (we were). This is a wonderful prelude to a splendid main event.

Bow & Truss, 11122 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood 91601. Open daily, Full bar. Valet or street parking. (818) 985-8787.

EXTENSIONS; "THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE", my favorite among this year's Hollywood Fringe Festival works and winner of the Encore Producer's Award, will have two more performances at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex, on 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., on July 12 at 8 pm and July 13 at 2 pm. Don't miss it! (323) 205-5360.

More good news: "COLD TANGERINES:THE PLAY", another gem on the stage of the Fremont Theatre in South Pasadena, gets three more performances on July 11 and 12 at 8 pm and on Sunday the 13th, at 2 pm. Fremont Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue, South Pasadena (626) 811-4111.

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



COLD TANGERINES: THE PLAY adapted for the stage by Lynn Downey Broswell, based on the book by Shauna Niequist

It looks like girls' night out at the Fremont, where the four women on stage have us in the palm of their hands. This lovely play resonates with the ladies but men will treasure it as well (mine did). Adaptor Braswell, portraying Shauna Niequist, narrates the story of a woman who yearns to become a writer, in a charming, animated way. The only four letter word you'll hear is d-i-e-t. And who hasn't grappled with trying to fit into a tux, a bathing suit or a pair of jeans? As she recounts her struggle dealing with her expectations of being the perfect person, wife and mother, the other actresses, expertly act out her story. (On Friday and Sunday, Abby Lynn, Aliza Pearl and Emily Greco, the latter a stand-out for her comic skills, alternating with Betsy Roth, Kira Shea and Susanna Hicks on Thursday and Saturday).

It's done in a most original and clever staging, smartly directed by Karissa McKinney. Andrew Villaverde and Carol Doehring supply just the right sound and lighting, respectively. Braswell's Shauna pulls no punches, confesses to her failures and foibles, including a bout with jealousy and self-doubt and, for once, exposes what it's really like to be a brand new mom, deprived of sleep and rest. She loves yoga and God, not necessarily in that order but her faith and indomitable spirit help carry her through the tribulations most of us experience due to lack of self-confidence. Mind you, the dialogue is never preachy and is generously sprinkled with humor. Cold Tangerines is an "upper" that works better than any pill and I urge you to see and enjoy this world premiere. You'll be the richer for it.

Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue at El Centro, South Pasadenas 91030. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm $25, seniors and students $20. Free parking in lot behind the theatre. (866) 811-4111 or The Fremont Centre Theatre ends 7/13

PRE-performance Dining Suggestion: About five minutes from the Fremont, is GUS'S BBQ and your nostrils will pick up the sent of pecan wood smoked vittles from the parking lot, alerting your taste buds that something special is coming their way. There are burgers and sandwiches from $10.95, salads from $9.95, appetizers from $5.95 to $12.95, but if you're smart, you'll go for the barbecue, for which they've been famous since 1946. Ribs come in two styles, St. Louis and Memphis, full racks $25.95, half $20.85. If you don't mind your fingers smelling seductively smoke-y, you'll pick up and dig right into barbecue heaven. Those who eschew hands-on activity won't go wrong with the sliced, beer-basted, Texas brisket, smoked for up to sixteen hours, succulent and generous, $17.95. There are a dozen sides from which you may choose, two per entrée. Ours were garlic mashed potatoes; a mix of crisp sugar snaps and carrot rounds; a red skin potato salad with bits of meat that tasted like ham but our good server, Katrina, said it was bacon as well as Southern greens, so authentic, you'll be talkin' with a drawl before you're done, all delicious, by the way. Other BBQ possibilities are chicken, tri -tip or pulled pork and combos thereof. From their Southern Kitchen, they offer fried catfish and chips, Southern fried chicken etc. This all-American, family-run restaurant is not flossy, tables are bare and some vintage photographs grace the walls but the service and the vibes are both thumbs up!

Gus's BBQ, 808 Fair Oaks Avenue at Hope, South Pasadena 91030. Open daily. Beer and Wine. Parking lot alongside. (626) 799-3251

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



OTHER DESERT CITIES by Jon Robin Baitz

It's difficult to separate the guilty from the innocent, in this family saga of major emotional and ideological proportions. Therefore, let's not take sides too soon. The year is 2004. George W. Bush is President and the war in Iraq is still dividing the country. It's Christmas Eve in a luxurious living room (gorgeous set by JR Bruce). There's a lovely tree, the kids have come home for the holidays - a time when the prescribed joy and happiness should reign supreme. But it ain't so in the Wyeth home. There's mom, Polly (Suzanne Ford) and dad, Lyman (Nicholas Hormann) in their tennis togs, country club set written all over them. This couple is well connected politically and very conservative, forerunners of what is now Tea Party mentality. Socialite Polly is a name dropper (Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale). The debonair dad is a retired Western movie hero, his matinee idol looks still intact. Also living in the household is Polly's sister, Silda (Eileen T'Kaye), a troublemaker with a drinking problem who likes to stir the pot but (ungratefully) accepts room and board. Son Trip, (Blake Anthony Edwards), a laid-back guy and successful TV producer, whose role as a peacemaker is severely hampered by his ultra-liberal sister, Brooke (Ann Noble), a struggling writer with a past of serious mental illness. She's the catalyst that sets off the fireworks that make this story so fascinating. Still enveloped in the loving memory of her dead brother, a radical druggie who was involved in a fatal bomb plot and committed suicide shortly thereafter. She has penned an about to be published memoir, exposing her parents' guilt in his death.

Director caryn desai gives us a think piece that never falters nor stands still, with a second act that's pure dynamite. Secrets are peeled away like the layers of a sharp, eye-watering onion. Noble, as the tormented Brooke, is riveting, her pale face mirroring her intense pain. The stylish Ford is also excellent and not the heartless yenta of the first impression. The patrician Hormann shows us the true face of a burdened father behind the polished veneer. T'Kays's role in this story, is primarily to supply the laughs and she does the job, while son Edwards plays the good natured teddy bear of a man with easy going, natural grace. Jon Robin Baitz is well known for his successes in films, television and stage. Other Desert Cities was a 2011 Outer Critics Circle winner and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, honors well deserved. This yeasty play delineates in an uncompromising way, the dynamics of a divided family, stripped naked.

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach 90802. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm. Sunday 2 pm. $42 - $47. Parking in structure opposite the theatre $10.Drive down Pine Avenue, turn left on Seaside Way and follow signs. (562) 436-4610 or International City Theatre ends 6/29

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A lot has changed on the menu of CAFÉ SEVILLA, my favorite tapas place, with authentic Spanish cuisine and handsome bodega ambiance. New are Spanish flatbreads, empanadas and gluten-free or vegetarian dishes. There are lots of sipping choices, sangria, caipirinha, mojitos, beer and wine. Their house Chardonnay from up in Monterey at $7 per glass, is not bad. They still serve those wonderful tapas like albondigas in Jerez sherry and chicken skewers, $7 each, excellent ceviche $7 - $10 and their famous paella from $21 (vegetarian) to $32. Meat and fish entrees are all a la Carte and extra mashed potatoes or vegetables are $6. The classic Spanish jamon Iberia, with ham from free-range Iberian pigs, will cost you $27, something for the very rich or slightly loco gourmands. Rabbit is one of those rarities, once popular at long departed French restaurants, but available here, hurrah! It's done Basque style, braised with rosemary and thyme and presented in two little piles, separating the white meat from the dark. Both are equally moist and tender but watch out for a couple of tiny bones. Included is a tiny crock of pan drippings and red wine sauce and some cracker wafers, a good value at $16. You'll want also share the mushroom and garlic tapa as an accompaniment, really tasty, $6 to complete this light, pre-curtain supper. Prices have risen but the top quality has remained constant. Sadly, the best Sunday brunch in town, theirs, is a thing of the past. Service is pleasing and the "Welcome To Spain" greeting warm and sincere. Allow ten minutes to drive to the ITC.

Café Sevilla, 140 Pine Avenue, Long Beach 90802. Full bar. Street parking in this area is beyond tight. Valet parking $8.(562) 495-1111.

EXTENSIONS: Two plays, previously reviewed on www.willcall.org have announced new closing dates and here they are: Against The Wall at Theatre West ends July 26th (323) 851-7977. Is There Sex After Marriage at the Two Roads Theatre ends July 13th (323) 960-5770.

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



AGAINST THE WALL by Charlie Mount

This is a look through the keyhole at the lives of people who make their living aw comedian, a gut-tearing profession. We've read enough biographies and autobiographies to know that insecurities propel most of them and getting laughs is what makes the life-blood flow through their veins. Jeff Zelinski (Nick McDow), is such a man. He has a gig in one of Greenwich Village's comedy clubs, called Against the Wall and lays more eggs than the hens before Easter. His shtick is stale, his delivery insipid, his jokes are ancient, most of his material is offensive. And he swallows his punch lines. Into his life, courtesy of his room mate, Alex (Lukas Bailey), comes the cosmic Susan (Katie Adler), a vivacious, red-headed actress, whose life revolves around the saving of endangered species, a cause totally foreign to Jeff, who has probably never even seen a dolphin in its native habitat. The question is, is there hope for these two neurotics to find some love?

Playwright/Director Mount has penned a play based on his own experiences as a stand-up/magician in many a basement and he knows of what he writes. I have to say that the audience laughed hysterically at every word, move and gesture emanating from the stage but I wasn't exactly rolling in the aisle. Adler's monologue in Act II, as she tries her luck with a stand-up routine of her own, about her relationship with her boyfriend, is genuinely funny and was, for me, the prize in the crackerjack box. The diminutive, fast-talking McDow as the conflicted comic, personifies the shleppy sad sack. The lanky Bailey, as his best friend whose career is on the ascension from the cellar circuit to success in L.A., makes his sporadic appearances most welcome. The serviceable, dual purpose set is by Jeff G. Rack and the sound, also by Charlie Mound, of appropriate music coming from an upstairs tenant, deserves special kudos.

Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles 90068 (opposite Universal City) The play runs in repertory with Flag Day and dates are June 19 - 22nd, Thursday through Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm $30 general seating; $35 premium seating (first four rows), seniors $25, students $5. Free parking in lot across the street. (323) 851-7977 or Theatre West ends 6/22

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: The Spoonful Restaurant near the theatre seemed like a good choice but just as we were about to order, were told that this I their last night of operation. In a panic, we settled on THE MAN CAVE, a sports bar, about five minutes from Theatre West. A large, semi-divided room adorned with banners and a TV screen on every available wall space. Dine as far from the bar area as possible, where the volume of ardent and vociferous fans, alternately cheering and moaning, is less audible. The food is typical of this genre, appetizers: wings, sweet potato fries, onion rings etc. $8 - $ll. Sandwiches and burgers dominate the menu and a serious meal is harder to find than the proverbial good man. To their credit, the pizza is pretty good, $10 plus two bucks extra for toppings like chicken, pastrami and more. Our choice, pepperoni and cheese came to $12, was crisp-crusted and hot from the oven, though not my idea of the ideal pre-curtain repast. More to the purpose is their carne asada $13, with an enormous salad of ultra fresh, baby greens and ripe tomatoes with balsamic vinaigrette. It comes with polenta but they were out. The substitute grilled yellow squash rounds were perfect. The meat had a few blemishes of grizzle, my advice is to cut it into bite-size pieces before you start. Miss Manners would not approve this but she would be even more dismayed to catch you spitting it out in mid-conversation. The meat's flavor was fine and so generously portioned, we took home about half of the thin slices for a steak & eggs breakfast in the morning. The staff is exceedingly friendly and makes you feel like an old, lost friend. Beer and cocktails galore, wine choices are red or white, $8 per glass.

The Man Cave, 3575 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Universal City 90068. Full bar.Validated parking in building's underground garage. (323) 851-2283.

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT


FLASH TO THEATRE FANS: The annual HOLLYWOOD FRINGE FESTIVAL, a wild and crazy collection of the performing arts, is being staged in about thirty venues throughout Hollywood, between Western and Gardner east to west, Franklin and Melrose north to south, from June 12th to the 29th. It's a community event that's open and uncensored, diverse and exciting, offering exposure to (mostly) talented performers to strut their stuff. For the complete scoop, schedules and information, log on to HFF14.org or call (323) 455-4585. See you there!


THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE by Wendy MacCleod

The Hollywood Fringe Festival shoots out of the gate with a spectacular start, with this delicious comedy about two neighbors of diametrically opposed personalities, whom fate has brought together at a point in their lives where finding a friend is like a life raft to a drowning man. Bill (Cameron Jappe), has just moved into a new condo, presently bare, while awaiting the arrival of his lovely actress wife, Adele (Laura Buckles), when Jack (Chet Grissom) from next door, drops in. I should say, settles in, he's never in a hurry to leave. Being divorced and lonesome, his neediness grates on Bill, who'd rather be on his own. He's too well mannered to actually throw him out and reluctantly offers him one of many beers and conversation. And, we bless him for his hospitality. These two guys are immensely simpatico; one is a sensitive gentleman of good character, sincerely in love with his wife, regretfully childless and concerned about his spouse's suspected infidelity. Jack, on the other hand, is earthy, a bit crude, a former philandering husband and absentee father but so amiable and funny, we'd love to have an acquaintance just like Jack, to keep us amused. In the course of the story, full of humor and heart, they have to deal with serious setbacks not merely of a temporary nature and you will savor every moment of their bumpy way to becoming brewsky-buddies.

According to his program bio, Director Darin Anthony specializes in emotionally resonant performances and that's what he got. Both men are superb in their characterizations and if this were a movie, they'd be up for Oscar nominations. If Bitter Lemons gave a BLIP Award (Best Individual Performance), they'd have to share it. Another remarkable fact is, that the playwright is a woman who captures every nuance of the bonding male idiom so authentically, one suspects she hid in a man cave, wearing a wire. She's a graduate of Yale School of Drama, currently in residence at Kenyon College and a serious candidate for Bitter Lemon's BLIFF Award ( Bitter Lemons Irreverent Femmes Award)We look forward to seeing some of MacCleod's other plays but you'll never squeeze a sweeter lemon than this one. But you won't soon forget this one.

Dorie Theatre at The Complex, 6478 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles 90038. $15. Performance dates in June: 14th at 2:30 pm; 19th at 9 pm; on the 22nd at 7:15pm; on the 26th at 8 pm and on the 29th at 4 pm. Tight street parking. (323) 455-4585 or The Dorie Theatre ends 6/29

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Treat yourself to a fantastic meal at LITTLEFORK, which is about a ten-minute drive from the Complex and well worth it. It has a sleek, contemporary interior in shades of dove grey and an inviting, secluded, covered patio, miraculously isolated from the honking and other traffic noises. The wine list is minuscule, per glass from $10 but there are plenty of sipping opportunities in the cocktail department. Jason Travi, who first made his mark at Culver City's Comme Ça, now co-owns this place. The menu is full of surprising delicacies, nary a déjà vu L.A. standard and the service is outstanding. Awaiting at table is a jar of pickled squashes and orange slices, most unusual but very good and reminiscent of mustard pickles, still crisp. Ever heard of poutiness? These are Canadian dishes, with French fries, such as cauliflower with curry gravy and mozzarella curds $11, salads like kale, Lyonnaise style, from $11 to$14 or, if you crave sterner stuff, house smoked brisket, trout and sturgeon $11 to $14 or skate (bone-in) for $19. Must haves are sunchokes, a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes, which they slice, skin on (who knew the skin is edible?) and roast to a golden turn. We should all be so firm! On the plate are raw, shaved 'chokes, sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley and a dip of Green Goddess dressing, truly heavenly. We passed on the candied lemons, $9. Their steak tartare comes hand chopped, a la tuna poke, beautifully seasoned, with a tiny pitcher of bacon Hollandaise and crostini. Our good waiter brought a few extra slices. Since portions are small and $9 and $14 aren't budget breakers, you should splurge on desert (to share). They have buttermilk pie, which sounded intriguing but we succumbed to a chocolate pot de crĆme with Chantilly (flavored whipped cream), pure caloric silk, which disappeared faster than you can say "this last bite is mine!" $8.

Littlefork, 1600 Wilcox Avenue at Selma, Hollywood 90028. Fullbar. Valet parking with validation $6, $10 on weekends or in public lot a few steps north. (323) 465-3675

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



DATES AND NUTS by Gary Lennon

Looking for some cool, summertime entertainment? Consider this play, a light libation with plenty of hot pepper, spice and salty language. And, of course, laughs. It opens as two gum-chewing chicks sit on a typical New York stoop, guy-watching. There's Mary (Dianne Aguilar, who resembles a young Rita Moreno) and the horny Eve (Elizabeth Regen), hungry for love and sex, not necessarily in that order. She's just been dumped, ogles every male, strikes seductive poses, is jealous of every female and even considers the neighborhood drag queen (the jive-talkin' Darryl Stephens), competition. She's beyond vulgar and utterly despicable. Until you get to know her. This actress rocks the role as though created just for her. Her road to love in this amusing story, however, is paved with nails. In scene two, the girls are in a bar. Eve is now unapproachable. She wards off the attentions of Donald (Dave Scotti), a little fellow who hides his shortcomings behind bravura boasts. When Al (Josh Randall) approaches her, she rebuffs him in no uncertain terms. What happens next will not be detailed here but be assured, you won't be bored.

Wilson Milam directs this multi-scene rom-com like a rollercoaster ride, with exhilarating ups and scary downs and never loses the audience's interest. Aguilar, as the volatile Eve's best friend, provides the right balance portraying her more subdued character. Scotti, in his pathetic pick-up routine, manages to make this obnoxious dude likeable. Randall is another example of astute casting. He evokes trust with a certain sincerity of manner, made to measure for an appealing, not too slick, prospective boyfriend. Regen, as previously noted, is fabulous! Playwright Lennon, a native New Yorker, with the juices of the Big Apple still flowing in his veins, creates a vivid image of that city's denizens with authentic dialogue and attitudes. He is a respected television writer who has an impressive resume of theatrical successes (A Family Thing, Blackout and The Interlopers). This West Coast Premiere is the work of someone who has experienced a few dates with some major nuts, himself. Set design is by Stephen Gifford, lighting by Sohail e. Najafi, sound by Corwin Evans. Good job, all around.

Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles 90057. Thursday through Saturday 7 pm (please not early curtain time), Sunday 2 and 7 pm. Dark 6/7 and 22 and 7/12. No intermission. Beer, wine and sake sold in lobby and permitted in theater. Free parking in church lot across the street. Enter via Rosewind. Advance purchase online $20, at the door $25. Seniors and students $18. (213)389-3856 or The Bootleg Theatre ends 7/13

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: About a five minute drive from the Bootleg is COJUTEPEQUE, a Salvadorian restaurant. The toughest part is pronouncing and remembering the name. Repeat after me: ko-hoo-te-peckway. The rest is easy. Salvadorian cuisine is pleasantly seasoned, not overly spiced, generously portioned and, certainly affordable. This is a popular, little spot, two decades in the same location, not fancy but nice and neat, with glass topped tables, a giant wall mural and a friendly staff. Pupusas of tortillas, tamales etc., start at $2.15. Entrees from $8.95 for chicken sautéed with onions, fried or stewed with carrots and potatoes; bistek or pork chop $9.95, up to $12.95 for a lavish combo of steak and shrimp kabobs with platanos and salad. We tried the pollo a la crema, a disjointed chicken in an absolutely terrific sour cream sauce, with rice, French fries (a double carbo load in case you're set for an imminent 10K), plus a little salad of shredded lettuce, a cucumber and tomato slice with a side of ranch style dressing, $8.95. Being a fan of beef tongue and hardly ever finding it on a menu, I went for the lengua entomatado and glad I did. The tender tongue is chopped, sautéed with home made, fresh tomato sauce, onions and tiny bits of bell pepper, simply excellent. On the plate is cooked to the point, rice, pureed beans and the above described salad, $10.50. Give Cojutepeque a shot, you won't regret it. The only thing missing was a glass of wine, too bad they have no license.

Cojutepeque, 2610 W. 3rd Street at Rampart Blvd., Los Angeles 90057. No alcohol. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Parking lot in front. (213) 382-5163.

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



GAMES ON A BOMBED OUT BEACH by Shirl Hendryx

This world premiere directed by the playwright in one of the most attractive small venues, holds a lot of promise, albeit unfulfilled. It deals with a group of Hollywood pros on location. They're in a Greek Island's hotel, engaged in pre-production. Sounds intriguing and glamorous, a situation where anything can happen. The producer, Harry (Drew Katzman) comes on the scene mad as hell, because the Director, Paul Deckard (Jonathan Salisbury) messed with the finished script. A solid performance, you can actually see Katzman's blood rising to his head. Lisa (Jane Hajduk), the wife of the leading man, Jim Branson (Richard Chassler), has come to join him on the set. This is a complicated woman whose former lover, unbeknownst to her husband, is the director, Paul. This sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. There's an overload of gazing out the window at the ruins of the bombed out temple, the local tourist attraction in season. They muse, ad nauseum, about the music in the wind, the possible ghosts among the ancient ruins, the trees and the flowers. Meanwhile, Jim and Lisa's marriage is falling apart.

The actors work diligently to sustain their peculiar characters. Hadjuk, whose hard cookie looks belie a self-deprecating, almost psychotic woman who is in constant mental anguish. A directorial hint about her incessant brushing her hair off her forehead would not be amiss. Chassler, the supposed successful matinee idol is an ordinary-looking guy whose energy is spent worrying about world hunger, genocide and other global catastrophes. But he hasn't bothered to check out the recent performances of the slacker director he has long admired and has hired for this film. Nor does he have a clue that his wife worked her way through Hollywood, mostly horizontally. Salisbury's Paul revels in sarcasm and venom but plays it with a genuine world weariness. It would be hard to find a less likeable trio. Jacques Freydont has a pleasant bit as the Greek village's Mayor, Stephanie Colet as a gofer with never ending legwork is fine and TJ Alvarado is the good natured bartender cum bellman. Set design (Thomas Meleck), lighting (Sammie Wayne IV) and sound (Carey Dunn) are above reproach. Could there be a deeper meaning to the costume designer's (Dory Haverty) reason for having the cast wearing the same clothes during the passage of several days? One desperately waits throughout this static tale's unfolding for gut grabbing, or at least, amusing scenes. When, almost at the end something dramatic does occur, it's too late. At this point, frankly, my dears, we don't give a damn.

Macha Theatre, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood 90069. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm. $25. Free parking lot on either side of the theatre. The entire lot is available Saturday and Sunday. Public parking across the street $5. (323) 960-4429 or Plays 4ll Games On A Bombed Out Beach ends 6/22

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Park and walk one block east to MARIX a Tex-Mex café with expert service, great food and a cheery, glass covered patio. If you arrive at pre-curtain time, you'll luck into Happy Hour, 3 to 7 pm, effective even on Saturdays, when a glass of wine goes for $4 and a big pitcher of Margaritas for $19. You'll also have to endure a lot of noise by the already very happy patrons, who've probably downed a few of those. But that's the only gripe because the kitchen does a super job and everybody is having fun. Appetizers start at $6 (chile con queso), a combo of fajitas is $17. There are tacos, burritos and a very tasty enchilada Suiza with chicken and cheese, $13. In the mood for a salad? The rosy, rare ahi tuna is lovely, over a heap of baby greens and kale with a nice cilantro dressing on the side, $14. There's a terrific hanger steak, marinated Cuban style. It comes pre-sliced, with thick chimichurri, black beans, rice and some shredded cabbage and radishes, over which you can pour some of their wonderful salsa and create a little salad. Another big hit, was the pasilla pepper stuffed with corn, cheese and seafood (shrimp and crab) in a creamy sauce, the latter two, $17 each. This dinner was the highlight of our evening.

Marix Tex-Mex Café, 1108 N. Flores St. near Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood 90069. Full bar. Open daily. Valet parking $6.50. (323) 848-2458

Written by INGRID WILMOT



THE GONDOLIERS by Gilbert & Sullivan

Three cheers and a Tiger, as the Brits are wont to say, to the Sierra Madre Playhouse, for NOT putting on the old war horses, HMS Pinafore and The Mikado, instead choosing a lesser known operetta, the melodious, delightful spoof of royalty, THE GONDOLIERS. Director Alison Eliel Kalmus' new adaptation sets the action in England, in the year 1953, an odd conceit that explains the costumes, or the lack thereof. I initially assumed, that for economic reasons, it would be easier to raid the local thrift shops for vintage clothing than to commission fancy gowns for the women and gondolier outfits for the guys. Wrong! Reading the Director's Notes at intermission, it turns out that the entire production takes place during the festivities of Coronation Day, as a sort of non-dress rehearsal because props and costumes have been temporarily lost in the excitement. No matter. As long as respect is paid to the catchy tunes of Sir Arthur's and the clever lyrics by Mister Sullivan, no serious Savoyard is going to complain. The lack of elaborate trappings is made up by the enthusiasm of the cast.

The jolly Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Dan "DW"McCann are the lively Palmieri Brothers, Marco and Giuseppe, gondoliers in Venice, who love and marry their sweethearts Gianetta (November Christine) and Terra (Jenna Augen). Soon they are advised by the old Grand Inquisitor (John Saura) that one of them is actually the King of Barataria, to be crowned at the palace. But which one? Your guess is as good as mine. There's much merriment and snappy hoofing, until all is resolved, considerably enlivened by every appearance of the overbearing Duke of Plaza-Toro and his entourage, including his snotty wife (Joy Weiser), lovely daughter Casilda (Kara Masek) and drummer boy Luiz (John King). The star of the show, without qualifications, is James Jaeger, who inhabits the role of the Duke with the professionalism of a Doyle Carte member. His diction is impeccable, his voice resonant, his histrionics perfectly in tradition - a performance fit for the world stages. In fact, the player deliver remarkable vocal work, some of whom have appeared in grand opera. The excellent Masek has done Mozart's Magic Flute and Bellini's La Somnambula. Weiser has sung in Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Also vocally impressive is the perky Augen and the mugging Christine, the two newly wedded wives. Saura's strong stage presence makes up for his slow-warming vocal prowess. The diminutive drummer, King, with the demeanor of a tax accountant, displays fine comic flair. The chorus consistently fills the hall with glorious sounds, accompanied on the piano by Music Director Leonardo Scolis. Specia mention must also go to the sound and lighting techniques of Barry Schwam and Greg Tillery, respectively. The dancers, led by MarLee Candell, do justice of the simple but entertaining choreography (by Angela Nicholas) in this enjoyable romp.

Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre 91024. Friday and Saturday 8 m, Sunday 2:20 pm.$28, seniors $25, youth 13 to 21 $18, children 12 and under $12. Free parking in lot behind the theatre. (626)355-4318 or The Sierra Madre Playhouse ends 6/21

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: What could be better than a one-stop visit, beginning with dinner at SIERRA BRIGANTI, across the street from the Playhouse. The delicious Italian menu is similar to the recently reviewed, sister restaurant Briganti in South Pasadena, with fine food and service. Briganti in Italian stands for pirates - but nobody robs anybody here. My suggestion, first of all, is to avoid the noisy interior and enjoy the al fresco atmospheric conditions of our amiable Southern California springtime. Burnt orange napkins add some color to the bare, dark wood tables and traffic is fairly light along the charming Boulevard, a model of Americana Main Street. Antipasti start at $6 for bruschetta or soup; salads from $11; pasta $10.50 to $17 (with shrimp); pizza from $10. If you're in the mood for a superb appetizer, you may want to share the black mussels, just the right amount as a starter for two. They come in a lovely, lightly spiced, tomato tinged, white wine broth which you should spoon up or dip up with the warm focaccia bread, $7.50. Main courses are around $16 to $22 and include chicken, salmon and N.Y. steak. They make an excellent veal scaloppini of good quality, with tons of capers, just as good as I remember from their South Pasadena location. For fish fans, nothing could be finer than the pistachio-crusted sole, pan roasted, fresh flavored, delicacy intact. Both entrees come with piped on mashers and diagonally cut, al dente carrots, zucchini and yellow squash. The wine list is short but fairly priced, from $7 per glass. This meal will provide a suitable overture to a long remembered experience.

Sierra Britanti, 120 W. Sierra Madre Blvd, Sierra Madre 9024. Beer and wine. Parking lot alongside. Closed Monday.(626) 355-3700.

Written by INGRID WILMOT



THE LAST ROMANCE by Joe DiPietro

This charming, little theatre in the heart of Downtown Torrance, consistently presents audience-pleasing works and this is no exception. Anyone who's fed up with the sexual exploits of pimply-faced youths and their teenage angst should definitely see this heartwarming play. Ralph Bellini (Scott Renfro) is in a rut, living with his yenta of a sister, Rose (Geraldine Fuentes), who cooks and cleans for him and never lets him forget it. On one of his daily walks, Ralph takes a slight detour and ends up in a dog park (cute set by Mark Wood). He spots an attractive, silver-haired woman, Carol (Daryl Hogue France) who sets his eighty-year old heart a-pounding faster than it has since he became a widower, many years ago. Just watch him trying to hoist his best pick-up technique out of mothballs. Carol, unfortunately, is only interested in her little dog, Peaches and quite annoyed by his attention. Ralph is an Italian-American and a lover of grand opera. As a young man, he had a beautiful singing voice, samples of which are supplied by Matthew Tan Welch impersonating the young Ralph. Welch, despite his slender frame, possesses a strong, splendid baritone and the snippets of Italian folk songs and operatic arias, rather than interrupt the flow of the story, add even greater poignancy to the proceedings.

This is a courtship filled with humor and surprises, very cleverly written and performed with gusto. Regrettably, there is no bio of the Tony Award-winning playwright in the program but DiPietro has written "Over the River and into the Woods", the musical "Memphis" and his most recent Tony-nominated "Nice Work If You Can Get It", which played on Broadway in 2013. Renfro is delightful, as he pursues his ladylove with the ardor of an enamored schoolboy and the enthusiasm of a puppy dog. Hogue France is lovely, with chiseled, delicate features. She's aloof but never nasty and has a winning smile. Fuentes, as the overbearing sister, earns our sympathy if not our affection but we'd all like to come to dinner and taste her veal scaloppini. Director Perry Shields' empathy for his characters is apparent as they portray endearing, flesh and blood seniors, never caricatures. The Last Romance is not just for mature audiences but if you're older, you learn that it's never too late for a little romance and if you're still young, it'll give you something to look forward to besides your Social Security.

Torrance Theatre Company, 1316 Cabrillo Avenue, Torrance 90503. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. Also Thursday, June 12th at 8 pm, followed by a Q & A with the cast. $25. Parking lot or ample street parking. (424) 243-6882 or The Torrance Theatre Company ends 6/14

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: You will love ANTIGUA CAFÉ. Ideally located but slightly hidden, in the little mall catty-corner from the theatre. Just park and walk across the street. It has a little patio in front and a deli counter right of entrance. Along the rectangular room's wall are tables with fresh flowers and comfy chairs, casual but neat and tidy. Not many of us a re familiar with the cuisine of Antigua but here's our chance to explore the flavors of this interesting region, long famous for its coffee bean called Antigua Guatemala (learn more by reading the notes inside the take-home menu). I heartily recommend the Spanish tapas, which are international in scope. You can get three for $11.99. They have six different ones on the menu so you may as well order all of them and share. Each and every one is delectable, served on diagonally sliced, home-baked, French baguettes, super fresh and crusty, hollowed out and heaped with delicious combinations. You'll savor goat cheese and caramelized onions, barbecued, pulled pork, hummus and couscous with chicken strips, roast beef bedded upon a slice of Provolone, pesto, mozzarella and capers and even a Polish specialty, Bigos (hunter's stew), a recipe Chef Yaneth, who grew up on a coffee plantation in Guatemala, gleaned from her travels around the world in search of culinary treasures. She watched her grandma, mother and aunts prepare fresh food for their large family and this was a little girl who paid close attention because everything here, including the home made, French apple tarte, $4.95, tastes of love. On my next visit I hope to try the Tamale Dinner, a multi-course Mayan specialty, $11.99. There are Flamenco background tapes and a surprisingly well assembled, international wine list, from $5.50 per glass, chosen by Yaneth's husband Gregory, a wine buff who knows a thing or two about the grape, which rounds out this pleasant dining experience on the right note. But, don't leave without a cup of that splendid coffee, $3.49. Now it's your turn to discover Antigua Café!

Antigua Café, 1231 Cabrillo Avenue, Torrance 90501 Breakfast, lunch and dinner, .Mon - Wed 10 am to 8 pm, Thurs. - Sat. 10 am - 10 pm. Open on the last Sunday of the month from 9 am to 4 pm. Beer and wine. Catering. Free parking in underground garage. (310) 320-2400.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS; You know it's summertime when THE FORD THEATRE has started its annual outdoor season of performances. This lovely venue, across the Freeway from the Hollywood Bowl, brings music and dance of infinite variety, to suit the demographics of Greater Los Angeles and there's something for every taste. Got kids? Saturday mornings' programs will appeal to children. Latino music is represented manifold. The Folklorico group, Mexico Baja Luna, Saturday May 24th, Fiesta Mexicana Mariachis on the 31st,both at 7 pm. Ballet Folklorico Olin, August 15th. African Dance and Drums, June 2nd, South African Music & Step Dance, July 5th. Both with audience participation. The Cambodian Music Festival takes place on August 9th, Philippine Choral Music is heard on August 17th, the Jewish Symphony with Hershey Felder will play on September 9th, Viver Brazil is September 6th. The Long Beach Opera appears on August 25th, Middle Eastern Dance is scheduled for August 11th and Broadway Under the Stars arrives August 18th. And much, much more! A trip around the world for a "Staycation" right here at home. Prices and starting times vary, some events are free. For a complete brochure, call (323) 461-3673 or The Ford Theatre Purchase a week in advance, save $5 per adult ticket, three or more events, save 20%, bring a warm wrap for cool evenings and a seat cushion doesn't hurt, either. Food and drink are available at the Concession on the top floor. The stacked parking, $5 on most evenings, is no fun but you can go Metro and take the shuttle from Universal City (evenings only). Allow an extra thirty minutes.

Ford Theatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood 90068. May 11 to September 13 2014.

Written by INGRID WILMOT



FALSE SOLUTION by Oren Safdie

This encounter between a successful architect and a star-struck intern is an interesting one-acter with political and sexual overtones, taking place in the architectural studio (set by Evelyn Elias) belonging to Anton Seligman (Daniel J. Travanti). The intricate model of a building on the table, is for a planned Holocaust Museum to be located in Poland, which is akin to erecting a statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Deep South, just after the Civil War. We are all now aware why the Nazis located most of their concentration camps in that, then inflammatory anti-Semitic country. But back to False Solution.

Linda Johansson (Amanda Saunders), is a first year architectural student who has closely followed Seligman's career and has even written a paper on him. She's no ordinary groupie. Highly intelligent, subject-knowledgeable and also exceptionally attractive. Her input, influenced by personal experiences, is not ignored by the mature, self-assured man. She would like to be his muse, inspiring him to alter his design to reflect more of the unspeakable horror and suffering of six million victims, as it relates to the current landscape surrounding the edifice. To intensify the plot, there's an alluded chemistry between them which tests one's credulity. He's a lean, old man and physically unappealing, yet, fame can be an aphrodisiac second only to wealth, so who's to say that their collaboration, if it comes to fruition, could not possibly be more than platonic. Written and directed by Oren Safdie, a former architectural student who knows his métier. His dialogue glistens with knowledge of his subject and although it occasionally sounds forced, gains credence by Travanti's often hesitant, sometimes rambling, delivery. His admirer, Saunders, is a young woman to be watched. In addition to her slender, long-legged beauty, she's an accomplished actress. Her transition from opinionated ingénue to anguished survivor, grabs the hearts of the audience like a vice. A fine performance which makes this play worth seeing.

Santa Monica Playhouse, Main Stage. 1211 4th Street, Santa Monica 90402. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 5 pm. $25. Park in Public Structure 1 right across the street. (800)838-3006 or Paper Tickets/event/588521 Ends 5/11

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Across the street from the Playhouse is P.F.CHANG, a popular Chinese chain that has in its favor convenience and surprisingly tasty food. Purists, who are willing to schlep to the San Gabriel Valley for authentic or oddball dishes, may turn up their snobby noses at this suggestion. But I can tell you, we had a terrific experience and a one stop parking-dining-theatre bonus, as well. Because it's almost impossible for two people to chopstick their way through a proper variety of Chinese dishes, choose from Chang's appetizer selections of assorted tastes and textures to please your palate. Start with chopped chicken and rice noodles to wrap in lettuce leaves, form a cup, fill it, add a few drops of soy sauce and eat it like a taco, $8. The Northern style ribs are rubbed with savory spices, including five-spice with its hint of anise, a meaty half dozen for $9.95. Some like it hot and for them there are Dynamite shrimp with sriracha aioli, adding a nice bite, crisply coated and festively decorated with shredded cabbage and greenery, $10.95. To round it all out, order the Singapore noodles, with scallions, some shrimp and cilantro garnish, delightful, for $11.95 You'll not be hungry in an hour, guaranteed. Additional available appetizers include won tons, dumplings salt and pepper calamari and more. Main dishes go for $13.95 (chicken) to $24 (sea bass) and lots in between. There's also a prix-fixe dinner for two, $39.95. They concoct fancy cocktails, wine by the glass from $5. This is a pretty, very large room, a- buzz with guests chatting, sipping and eating, a shiny parquet floor below, round, amber light fixtures above. The staff is smiling and attentive and will check on your satisfaction throughout the meal. A good bunch.

P.F. Chang, 326 Wilshire Blvd. at 4th Street, Santa Monica 90401. Full bar. Open daily. Park at Structure 1. If you arrive around 6 pm for dinner and return after the show, it'll cost you $5.50. (310)395-1912.

MAN IN A CASE adapted by Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson/Big Dance Theatre

Did you mother tell you that if you can't say anything nice, keep quiet? Then you better not become a drama critic. This show is the biggest disappointment of the year, so far. Consisting to a large extent of an exercise in reading aloud, the two short stories by famous Russian author Anton Chekhov, as directed by Lazar, are staged with no effects spared: projections large, medium and small (by Jeff Larson), strobe lights, excellent sound (by Tei Blow) and lighting (by Jennifer Tipton), some live accordion and guitar music and a whimsical, little bedroom set (by Peter Ksander). None of these help. Admit it, unless you're related to one of the cast members (Jess Barbagallo, Tymberly Canale, Chris Giarmo and Aaron Mattocks), you've succumbed to the promo phrase "Baryshnikov Is Back". One can't help but feel for Misha. The career of a ballet dancer is painfully short and when strength and muscle power begin to fade but you miss the limelight, adoration and applause (not to mention the money), you must try something less strenuous. If on this beautiful Broad Stage he expresses intense emotion or exhibits theatrical talent, I couldn't see it. My allocated press seats were in the very last row of the orchestra, not the ideal vantage point for a reviewer. As for his speaking voice (miked), it's saddled with a Slavic accent (not a bad thing for Chekhov) but its timbre is not particularly pleasant. In the opening story Baryshnikov is a black-clad, lonely schoolteacher who is smitten by a giggling girl on a bicycle (Tymberly Canale). When he wakes up in the morning, he does four jumping jacks and we wait for him to break into a dance routine, now that he's limbered up. No such luck. When the act is just about over, he finally shows us a few moves. Dancing 101, nothing you couldn't do after a couple of Martinis. Choreography, such as it is, is by the co-adaptor, Parson).

In the second, shorter tale, titled About Love, he falls for an unattainable, married woman (Canale again). The ending is somewhat mysterious and comes not a moment too soon. Let us treasure the memory of Baryshnikov's former balletic prowess and sexy energy - don't waste your money on this turkey. Amazingly, some people gave it a standing ovation so, who knows, you may even like it.

The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica 90401. May 2,3,5,6,8,9 and 10 at 7:30 pm, May 3,4 and 10 at 2 pm. Seventy minutes, no intermission. $47-$137. Free parking lot in front. (310) 434-3200 or The Broad Stage ends 5/10

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: You'll have a nice, inexpensive dinner at HUCKLEBERRY, not more than ten minutes from the Broad. This is a casual, laid-back kind of place, from the people who also own Santa Monica's Rustic Canyon and Milo & Olive. They really know how to prepare the fresh, healthy food, gleaned from organic farms to nourish us city slickers. The room is light and airy, with fresh flowers on the bare tables where napkins and assorted silverware are stored. It's quite noisy so save your bons mots for another occasion. The entire breakfast, lunch and diner menus are listed on giant blackboards above the counter, where you place your order, pay and receive a table number, then to be seated to await the arrival of the goodies. They have salads, sandwiches, soups, side dishes and a short selection of entrée plates, none higher than $13.50.That is the price of the brisket which is actually a hearty beef stew with an occasional bite of potatoes and carrots, in a light but flavorful gravy and plentiful chunks of meat. Even better are the turkey meatballs, about a half dozen the size of tangerines, in a fresh, homey-tasting, pureed tomato sauce, a winner for $12. Portions are huge, served in a large bowl with a side of baby arugula salad, slightly underdressed, like some of the clientele here. There's a glass case by the door, displaying some luscious looking salads, which would make a satisfying, cold supper when our summer weather kicks in. I'm putting that on by bucket list.

Huckleberry, 1014 Wilshire Blvd., at 10th Street, Santa Monica 90401. Free parking lot in rear. No reservations. They are open daily but close at 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. (If you can't get there early, there's always the fabulous, previously reviewed, Santa Monica Seafood next door.)(310) 451-2311

WRITTEN BY INGRID WILMOT



MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Aaron Posner

This involving story deals with the struggle of one man, whose loyalty to faith and family is severally tested when his strong religious upbringing clashes with his overwhelming passion to express himself through art. Asher Lev (Jason Karasev), from the time he was a little boy, loved to draw more than anything in the world. His father, (Joel Polis), a dedicated, devout Jew who, like his forbears of many generations, serves as assistant to the local rabbi, travels the world helping to build Hassidic communities throughout Russia and Europe. He considers his son's artistic efforts a waste of time and his penchant for drawing (God forbid) crucifixions and, even worse, naked women, sacrilegious and sinful, respectively. The mother, Rivkeh (Anna Khala) is more forgiving but supports her husband as an obedient Orthodox wife must, although she admires her son's talent. When the boy, at age five, sells his first drawing to his uncle, his fate is sealed - but not without enormous conflict. Taken from the novel by Chaim Potok and beautifully adapted by playwright Posner, the play eloquently illustrates the struggle of a young son, going against the wishes of his father to follow him in his traditional vocation, a theme that is universal and timeless. Set in the fifties in Brooklyn's Crown Heights District, it could be anywhere at any time and appeals to diverse audiences.

Admirably directed by Fountain Theatre's Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, our protagonist serves as the narrator of his life story in a slight, Eastern-European accent, portraying the dedicated and immensely gifted artist from boyhood to manhood. He bares his heart and soul in the process, in an unforgettable, poignant performance. Equally astounding, in multiple roles, are Khaja as Asher's understanding, long suffering mother, as Anna, a savvy art dealer and, briefly, as a model. Asher's father, Polis also plays Uncle Jacob, a revered, wise rabbi as well as Asher's worldly mentor, whose religious duties have taken a backseat to his more liberal lifestyle and business acumen. It will be almost impossible to look at a fine painting in the future, without thinking of the heartbreak and sacrifices the artist may have had to endure with every brushstroke. A wonderful play!

Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue at Normandie, Los Angeles 90029. Friday and Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm $34, seniors and students with ID (Thursday & Friday only), $25. On site parking $5 (323)663-1525 or The Fountain Theatre ends 5/18

Sorry, no Pre-Performance Suggestion and here's why: We ventured into an unprepossessing dinery called ADOBO, corner of Sunset and Fountain. They have Filipino food, a long neglected, exciting cuisine we hoped to recommend. Admittedly, the food was good, the place plain but clean and dinner for two came to an unheard of $14. But it's just too, too primitive. Never mind you have to order at the counter/steamtable and there's n beer or wine. But the utensils are cheap, small plastic forks and spoon (no knives), the napkins flimsy and you have to eat out of one of those Styrofoam take-out boxes. That sealed it. However, on the way to the theatre, we spotted another restaurant on Fountain Avenue which I hope to review on our next visit to the theatre, in May.

GOOD NEWS: Nora and Delia Ephron's witty play LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, which had an enormously successful run at the Geffen in Westwood, has re-appeared at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. If you missed it the first time, don't make the same mistake. This is a hoot of a show with a rotating cast. Tickets and information (805)667-2900 or The Rubicon Theatre ends 5/11

Written by INGRID WILMOT



REST by Samuel D. Hunter

First off, please know that this is not one of those depressing plays about elderly people in an old folks' home, awaiting the grim reaper. The setting happens to be the common room of an attractive retirement home (designed by John Iacovelli), in Northern Idaho, which is about to be permanently closed, leaving only three guests in residence. The true stars here are the members of the staff, with the exception of feisty Etta (Lynn Milgrim), the most memorable septuagenarian you've ever met. She's an outspoken, no nonsense old gal, sharp, witty and in full control of her faculties. Her husband, Gerald (Richard Doyle), unfortunately suffers from an advanced case of dementia and no longer recognizes her. He's ninety-one, a former professor of music with an imposing career behind him. During a mighty snowstorm, he vanishes and consternation is rampant as they all search for him in every room. Now back to the staff. We have Ginny (Libby West), a sassy, hard-boiled nurse and a younger, earnest nurse, Faye (Sue Cremin) who is carrying a baby but has misgivings about her pregnancy. The boss, Jeremy, (Rob Nagles) is a man getting away from a painful divorce out of State, who took the job as his last resort for gainful employment. The regular cook having already quit, he hires a temp, Ken (Wyatt Fenner) a nervous kid whose only culinary experience has been at a Taco Bell. He's happy to find a better paying job and is something of a Jesus freak. His devout demeanor is amusing rather than annoying and his mealtime efforts to please, endear him to one and all. The other remaining resident is Tom (Hal Landon, Jr.), who is mainly ignored by everyone because of his hearing loss but he comes into his own in a delightful scene later in the story. During the course of the play, we fortuitously get to know all the characters, well delineated by the brilliant, much awarded, playwright. The situation worsens and the mid-winter storm becomes even more severe, roads are closed and a power failure hits the building. But that gives Ginny and Faye a chance to bond as everyone huddles together in the dark and the mystery of Gerald's disappearance is finally solved.

Under the inspired direction of SCR's Founding Co-Artistic Director, Martin Benson, the cast is astonishing. West is touching as she reveals her softer side and private concerns. Even the weak-voiced Cremin displays just the right degree of vulnerability, as he confesses her guilt over a tragic accident in her past. The droll Nagles, a born scene-stealer, provides comic relief with every line and facial expression. The anxious Fenner is fun to watch as he settles down and develops a kinship with his employer and colleagues. And Doyle whose sonorous voice, almost stilled here, is familiar to audiences from his summer gig as the narrator of The Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, has some affecting moments. Through it all, the indomitable Milgrim triumphs as a woman who has had to face the steady declining condition of the only loved one whose life she shared. A moving and often very funny theatrical coup, the first of SCR's Pacific Playwrights Festival. See it!

South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa 92626. Tuesday & Wednesday 7:30 pm, Thursday & Friday 8 pm, Saturday 2:30 and 8 pm, Sunday 2:30 and 7:30 pm. $22 - 72. Parking Garage on Park Center Drive, off Anton Blvd. (714)708-5858 or www.scr.org ends 4/27

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A perfect dinner can be yours at SEASONS 52 (near Bloomingdale's), in South Coast Plaza. There's a friendly outdoor patio and the interior has a rich, clubby, somewhat masculine look, with dark wood, a center bar and wall racks of wine bottles, properly stored horizontally, to keep the corks from drying out. The impressive wine selection if fairly priced, glasses from $7.50.Seasons 52 changes its menu 52 times a year with weekly specials listed on the right side and they pride themselves on health conscious meals. They do not serve bread or butter but you can nibble on flatbreads, $9.75, to start. Appetizers go from $6.50 to $13.25. Entrees include trout $18.50, tuna tartare $19.95, beef and lamb $28.50 etc. I am enthusiastic about their enticingly marinated, Plainsville Farm turkey cubes, moist and tender with fantastic flavor that makes our holiday turkeys pale by comparison. So good, it doesn't even need the side of Zinfandel gravy that tastes like red wine and steak sauce. Hats off to Chef Tim Kast and to whomever developed the recipe. This is a chain but you'd never know it. Their other location is in Century City, where we loved the planked salmon and the seafood pasta. The turkey kebab comes with grilled vegetables and faro in a large, boat shaped dish. Ditto for their scallops, all in a row, crisp on top, as requested, another tasty treat with lemon risotto, English peas and asparagus spears, $23.50. I was planning to beg a few English peas, which I love and which seem to be in season for five minutes, from my husband's plate in exchange for some of my grilled vegetables. But I had nothing to trade since the chopped red bell peppers, peas and corn were intermingled with my faro. Our wonderful server, Jonathan, seeing my disappointment, quickly brought a portion of asparagus (no charge). But wait, there's more. They have those cute mini dessert indulgences, $3.75 each, which are fantastic and so tiny, you don't even think about calories, ha, ha. We ordered two to go, to enjoy on the terrace outside the theatre, with a cup of coffee. We forgot they come in little, square shot glasses but our Jonathan packed them, carefully wrapped in several paper napkins, plus plastic utensils. (You know that all visits are anonymous, this is obviously an outstanding waiter). We plan to return the glasses on our next visit, a good excuse to make it soon! Driving time to the Performing Arts Complex is approximately five minutes. A brisk walk in flats, ten to twenty minutes; in stilettos 20 - 25 minute (at least).

SEASONS 52, 3333 Bristol Street, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, 92626. Parking lot in front. Full bar. (714) 437-5252

Reviewed by INGRID WILMOT



A STEADY RAIN by Keith Huff

This fascinating play is like taking a trip and sitting next to a stranger with really good stories to tell - not the usual bore who insists on showing you photos of his homely grandchildren. The two men on the bare (except for two chairs) stage, are both Chicago cops who spill their guts to a riveted audience, often in monologues, sometime to each other. They have identical jobs but are two entirely different human beings. Denny (Sal Viscuso) is a family man, as he constantly reminds us, has a wife he professes to adore and two little boys. He's not what you might call a dirty, rotten cop, let's just say, he's slightly soiled, not beyond shaking down and consorting with prostitutes and an unabashed bigot, as well. Joey (Thomas Vincent Kelly) is single, lonely, lives in a hovel, socially conscious but his character is flawed. He's envious of Denny nice home and loved ones. They are partners and close friends since childhood but their relationship has become conflicted by the errors in judgment for which they secretly blame each other.

The talented, award-winning playwright, Keith Huff, a former medical editor, is also a film and television writer and unpublished novelist. Directed by Jeff Perry, the co-founder of Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre, the two men deliver superb performances while regaling us with their adventures on duty. Viscuso's delivery is high octane, his emotions laid bare with no holds barred. Kelly's Joey is more introspective, perfectly nuanced to reveal his weaknesses as well as his attributes, basically a decent guy but one who cannot resist his desires. Aided by clever scenic projections (by Adam Fleming), lighting (by Michael Gend) and sound (by Joe Zalewski), we are transported into their eventful lives, grey areas and all. Judge not, should be our mantra but of course, we do and that's what makes this play as provocative and exciting as anything you're likely to see on local stages. Broadway's sold out run had the glam factor of Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig but we are well served by these two wonderful actors doing justice to a well constructed, spellbinding play. Only one more weekend - don't miss it!

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.,West Los Angeles 90025, Thursday 4/17, Friday 4/18, Saturday 4/19 at 8 pm. Sunday 2 pm. $25 - $30. Supervised parking in front $3 (310) 477-2055 or The Odyssey Theatre ends 4/20 EXTENDED THROUGH 5/11 CALL FOR SCHEDULE

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A fun experience awaits, virtually around the corner, at KULA, a Japanese sushi place with a revolving sushi bar that's actually affordable. The goodies roll by in covered, little dishes, which you grab off the assembly line. The interspersed name and identifying color photo labels tell you what you're getting. Each portion, consisting of two, sometimes three rolls or nigeri, cost only $2 each. The variety is staggering. Let them all go by one time and then make your choice, is my advice. Nigeri (flat pieces of fish pressed over rice) include albacore and red snapper ponzu, soy-marinated tuna and salmon, seared beef and scallop, conch and eel (especially delicious) and more. Among the rolls you can pick spicy tuna, dragon, tiger and spider rolls, rainbow, Philadelphia and shrimp-avocado roll; hand-rolled spicy shrimp taro, vegetable, real California crab etc. Gunkan maki (wrapped in nori) features sea urchin, ikura (salmon roe) and masago (smelt roe) with egg, as well as a parade of dishes of watermelon, sesame balls and sunomono (cucmber salad). There's also a separate menu for gyoza dumplings, crispy chicken, popcorn shrimp, tempura etc., from which we ordered a bowl of ramen, the broth as rich as your grandma's chicken soup, $4.99. This, plus about a half dozen sushi plates and a small hot sake, came to $23, an unbeatable bargain. The rice is organic and everything is fresh, fresh, fresh. Kids just live the merry-go-round set up of the traveling selections. If you have children or grandchildren who are sushi fans, do bring them next time. It'll be a Happy Meal better than any they've had at you know where, healthier and "Kula", too. Note: the drill is to sign up right away, on the sheet outside the front door (no reservations) but at pre-theatre time, the wait is usually only ten or fifteen minutes. Five minutes drive time to the Odyssey.

Kula, Sawtelle Plaza, 2130 Sawtelle Blvd., ground floor. Open daily. Beer and sake. Free one hour parking (with validation) in the underground garage, $1.75 for an additional half hour. (310)597-4490.

Reviewed and written by INGRID WILMOT



IS THERE SEX AFTER MARRIAGE? by Jeff Gould

Hot on the heels of his previous successes, Troubled Waters and It's just Sex, Gould has written a tale about three married couples that will amuse all who laugh at raunchy jokes. We meet Roger and his wife, Sherry (Jared Sacrey and Rene Ashton), who've thrown a party for their friends Joe and Mindy (Brad Lee Wind and Natalie Salins) as well as Zach and Beth (Joel Berti and Anne Leighton). Zach and Beth's bed sheets are still sizzling and they can't keep their hands off one another. Joe and Mindy's ardor however, has cooled to sub-zero temperatures. The hosts, Roger and Sherry love each other but their marriage is stymied by her full-time activities to save the planet and his total disinterest in the cause. Everything you want to know, and more, about their sex life will be aired, dirty linen and all, in the course of this sit-com style plot.

Playwright Gould directs his attractive cast and when they assume dual roles, are so cleverly coiffed and disguised, one hardly recognizes them. For example, Wind, the frustrated, sarcastic Joe of Scene I, who has all the best lines, doubles as Hank, the poster boy for "casual" sex (as you will see), at a wild party. Salins, his chilly Mindy, emerges there as a gorgeous, sexy participant. Musical beds are played when one husband brings home his boss' pants on fire secretary and his wife one-ups him with a handsome toy boy. The passionate lovers Zach and Beth are not beyond a little outside stimulus and the bickering, platonic (of late) couple Joe and Mindy, may yet rekindle the weakly flickering flame of love. The set (by Allison Schenker) and costumes (by Jen Bendik) require frequent changes during a few too many blackout pauses but the humor compensates for minor annoyances. The next question is, Is There Sex After Death? The answer has to be "yes" because we're all going to heaven, aren't we?

Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Avenue, Studio City 91604. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 7 pm. $34, students and seniors $25 (use Code 209). Ninety minutes, no intermission. Going to the rest room is an adventure. The nearest one is located three doors away, in the multi- room AROMA CAFâ (only one person at a time), so allow about ten minutes for this purpose. Tight street parking. Meters are free after 6 pm. Vitellos Restaurant's lot charges $10 but see Dining Suggestions (below) (323) 960-5770 or Plays 411 ends 5/4

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Across the street from Two Roads Theatre is the well-established VITELLOS, which has undergone a truly successful facelift (unlike some of our friends), and boasts a new menu, as well, since last visited a few years ago. It now has an airy, open look, with used brick accents, stunning centerpiece, shiny floors and large windows with a view of their sidewalk patio, plus the most comfortable chairs in town. There's an impressive wine list, glasses start at $9. Instead of only old-fashioned Italian fare, the kitchen's output has been modernized as well. Entrée prices go from $20 for chicken Da Vinci to $27 for short ribs. For only $17, you can dig into pasta puttanesca, spaghetti with olives, grape tomatoes, capers, anchovies etc., a delight. This dish was reputedly served at Italian bordellos to impart potency to their clientele, long before Viagra was invented. The best branzino I've tasted is $24, the fish fresh and hot from the oven, coated with toasted almonds, comfortably resting on shredded, crisp veggies and sautéed grape tomatoes, surrounded by a puddle of pesto. A beautiful blend of textures and flavors, highly recommended. The friendly service, excellent food and parking convenience (see below) make this the go-to pre-performance spot.

Vitellos, 4349 Tujunga Avenue, Studio City 91604. Full bar. Nightly entertainment upstairs (separate admission). Valet parking $3.50 (Note: you may leave your car (with dinner validation) and pick it up after the show). (818) 769-0905.

Written and reviewed by INGRID WILMOT



THE MEMORANDUM by Václav Havel

This is a work that begins as a satirical slap in the face at bureaucracy and ends up resembling a morality play. Written by the brilliant Václav (pron.Vhatslahf) Havel an artistic and literary talent who was a political dissident, a true folk here who became President of the then Czechoslovakia (1993 - 2003) when the Soviet influenced yoke of Communism was finally lifted. He later served as the Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation.

Staging this play was no easy task for Santa Monica Rep's Director Jan Bloom, who has chosen to present it with the audience seated on either side, like at a tennis match (set by T. Cavelti). This presents multiple problems of visibility and audibility, when the actors' faces are not in full view and some of the dialogue is muffled. The story takes place in a factory whose regimented employees are spied upon a la Big Brother and in the grasp for individual power, almost undone, primarily Mr. Josef Gross (Bart Perry), the current Managing Director, who is befuddled by a memorandum in a language he's never heard before. His scheming Deputy, Miss Ballas (Barbara Urich), has introduced this new tongue, Ptydepe (pron.puh-tie-duh-pee) ostensibly to make the organization run more efficiently (her words), but nobody bothered to inform her thoroughly confused boss, Gross.

The remarkable performers face a monumental task as well, learning some of their lines in Ptydepe, gutteral sounds that resemble a mix of Hungarian and Czech, the champion of which is the diction-perfect Yael Berkovich, as the tireless instructor Leah, who is able of memorize all that gobbledegook and her prize pupil, Mr. Thumb (David Evan Stolworthy). Another standout is Urich, the devious ball-breaker who weasels her way to the top and her mute assistant, Miss P. (Berkovich also). Her co-workers are the language expert, Otto (Bill Charlton), the horny Alex (Burt Moseley, who has a strange accent and we sometimes can't tell whether he's speaking English or Ptydepe). The energetic, enterprising Chairman Helena is Tania Getty and Ewan Chung plays the subservient Hans. The excellent Petty is both pathetic and sympathetic as the bullied boss. The most likeable character is the demure secretary, Maria (the zaftig Sara Mayer), a sweet girl with a good heart. The cleverest touch in this entire meshuggas is an illuminated sign board with ever changing corporate messages, which keeps the workers up to date about absolutely everything: parties, infractions, meals etc. You can tell we are in Mittel Europa, when the lunch offerings include goose and goulash. Incidentally, this lovely theatre has the hardest chairs., so grab some seat cushions which are stacked by the proscenium stage.

Santa Monica Repertory Theatre, at Miles Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Boulevard at Wilshire (entrance past the tennis courts), Santa Monica. Friday & Sunday 7:30 pm. $30, seniors and students $20. (213)-268-1454 ends 4/20

Important Parking Info: Free parking in the underground garage of the catty-corner, pink, granite-faced building of 808 Wilshire Blvd., entrance on Lincoln. Lot closes at 8 pm but tell the attendant you're going to Miles Playhouse. You'll be handed a validated ticket. After the event, swipe it outside, on the right side of the pedestrian entrance of 808 Wilshire and the gate will open. Take the elevator down to the parking area. The pressure of your vehicle will raise the wooden bar.

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A suitable prelude to the Central European locale currently being invoked at the Miles Playhouse, is dinner at WARSZAWA, a venerable Polish restaurant that has graced the local dining scene for several decades. The multi-room setting resembles a cozy home, with posters, art and elegantly appointed table settings and a European-trained staff. Fresh bread and an olive tapenade appear in an instant. Fine bottles of wine are decently priced, by the glass from $9 for an Austrian Gruener Veltliner or a German Riesling. If you want to go the Continental route, to start there are pirogi (the Slavic version of a super-sized ravioli), $5, home made soups $4 - $5. Entrees like golubsi (cabbage rolls) or chicken paprikash, $24, beef Stroganoff $22 as well a American dishes. We were going to launch with steak tartare $15, until we spotted a celery root salad, even more of a rarity these days Fresh celery root is shredded and marinated to perfection in a creamy, Dijon-scented dressing, decorated with candied walnuts in a portion to be shared, a must have, $8. Highly recommended is the pork (or chicken) schnitzel, prepared to rival any Viennese cook's skill, served with mashers, grated carrots and crisp broccoli that tastes fresh from the Farmers' Market, $22. Another lip smacker (and finger-licker) is their roasted duck, half a meaty bird accompanied by spaetzle, heavenly, little dumplings, better than my grandma's - but don't tell her. On the side are ramekins of lingonberry sauce and an apple-prune compote for those who must add sweet tastes to just about everything, like people who toss canned mandarins into a perfectly vinaigrette-dressed salad. We had no room for dessert but our good waitress mentioned a chocolate cake which we definitely see in our future.....

Warszawa, 1414 Lincoln Boulevard (three blocks from Miles Playhouse), Santa Monica, 90401. Full bar Street parking (meters are free after 6 pm.) Closed Monday (310) 393-8831.

Reviewed and written by Ingrid Wilmot



THE MELVILLE BOYS by Norm Foster

Little Fish Theatre's latest, arrives like a spring tonic, refreshingly different from the usual Norm Foster farce. You can always count on lots of yucks from the pen of the man dubbed the Canadian Neil Simon but here he also explores human nature and the relationship of siblings, in a seriously funny plot. The two blue collar Melville brothers plan to spend a weekend in a rustic cabin, fishing and just hanging out. They both work in a plastics factory, as did their dad, where the elder, Lee (Bill Wolski) is the foreman and Owen, (Michael Hanson), more or less, a flunkie. He is a slacker who avoids helping out as often as possible. Soon he spots two young women boating on the adjoining lake and, over Lee's objections, invites them in. They turn out to be two sisters, Mary (Holly Baker-Kreiswirth) and Loretta (Kyla Schoer). Mary is pleasingly plump, a thoughtful, emotionally wounded, deserted wife while Loretta is barely a hundred pounds of pure party girl. They pair up as expected, get better acquainted with each other as well as we do, with this loveable quartet .The first act is a laugh a minute but ends up on a more serious note.

Directed with just the right, light touch by Paul Vander Roest, the cast is truly amazing. The versatile Wolski, as a man of good character who faces an insurmountable problem, is marvelous and gets to show off his dramatic talent. As the Good Time Charlie Owen, Hanson is hilarious and his boyish charm irresistible. Kreiswirth (Wolski's real life wife), as the most introspective of the four, steals our heart with her gentle, sincere demeanor. She plays the type of woman we all would want as a friend. Schoer's Loretta, an aspiring actress full of herself, inhabits her character completely; she's the gal we also wish we knew, one with whom to have tons of fun, 24/7. The Melville Boys is a comedic canvas, sprinkled with the vagaries of real life, delightfully presented. See it!

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre Street at 8th, San Pedro 90731. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2/23 only, at 2 pm. $24 - $27. Parking lot. Enter via the alley. (310)512-6030 or The Little Fish Theatre ends 4/5

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: The Iron City Grill, which introduced authentic, Spanish tapas to the area many years ago, has been face lifted and renamed IRON CITY TAVERN, a congenial bar. We thought we'd go and see what's cooking. The answer is, not much - but don't go away. They have nightly specials including a rib eye steak in two sizes and always an impressive selection of burgers and sandwiches (Ortega steak, turkey club, chili size, $6/95 and a few actual dinner entrees on the regular menu. We ordered calamari steak but they were out. Their chicken Marsala is prepared with the sweet version of that wine, so that wasn't going to be it, either. We had a darling waitress, who, upon seeing our disappointment, treated us to a complimentary glass of wine. We ended up with blackened ahi tuna, pink as a SoCal sunset, thinly sliced, with fresh veggies and mashed potatoes studded with roasted garlic cloves, a bargain at$14.95. A good portion, some of which we doggie bagged and enjoyed the following day with some wasabi and soy, sashimi style. A good move is to get some appetizers, their buffalo wings are plump and full of good flavor, $6.95. Chicken marinara tastes like schnitzel, freshly breaded, crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, with a dip of homemade marinara sauce alongside, $7.95. Sharing these three items makes for a very nice, inexpensive dinner. We do miss those tapas, though......

Iron City Tavern, 589 W. 9th Street, San Pedro 90731. Open daily. Full bar. Parking in rear. Happy Hour weekdays 4 - 6 pm. No reservations. (310) 547-4766.

Reviewed and written by INGRID WILMOT



SLOWGIRL by Greg Pierce

This is a well-crafted, wonderfully acted but poorly staged play. It was love at first sight, with the intimate Little Audrey, which seated about fifty people when it first opened. It has been reconfigured with a center stage, the audience on both sides. This floor plan works for Wimbledon but here, we often do not see the faces of the two superb actors who bring Slowgirl to life. That said, please do not let it deter you from attending.

The spare set (by Takeshi Kata) is a little house in Costa Rica, near a village called Los Angeles (population eighty-six!), with no doors, a cot, a fridge and a porch with a hammock, to which American ex-pat Sterling (William Petersen) has retreated to get away from certain legal problems and a painful divorce, He leads a hermit-like life in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by wild but non-threatening animals and birds (sound by Richard Woodbury). His tranquility is disturbed by the arrival of his seventeen-year old niece, Becky (Rae Gray), a typical teen-age Chatty Cathy, who is escaping from a lot of trouble at home. A vodka fuelled party, to which a girl with a mental disability, nick-named Slowgirl, had been invited just for laughs, ended disastrously and Becky is held responsible. This is revealed early on and all we're going to give away.

Both actors' background includes Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre and they live up to its reputation. Petersen, an attractive, middle-aged man, seems content in his solitude. He is a well educated, sensitive person who welcomes this family member with admirable warmth and patience, even tough he has not seen her for many years, a beautifully nuanced performance. Gray, a tall, skinny, pale girl (a real life college student), is the perfect embodiment of a garrulous high schooler ; her speech laced with the authentic vernacular of her generation, full of "like", "whatever" and "cool". Know what I'm sayin'. Dude? She's outspoken to the point of indiscretion, with no subject taboo and both their life stories make for a spellbinding and entertaining play. Directed by the Geffen's Artistic Director Randall Avery, who choreographs their movements as skillfully as possible but still, we regret every missed smile or furrowed brow due to the staging. Otherwise this is a gem and an auspicious L.A, stage debut for playwright Greg Pierce. You'll love it!

Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kennis Theatre, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood 90024. Tuesday - Friday 8 pm, Saturday 3 & 8 pm Sunday 2 pm. $57 - $72. Ninety minutes, no intermission. Parking in adjoining underground garage $7. (310)208-5454 or The Geffen Playhouse ends 4/27

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: The former Gardens on Glendon are now re-born as SKYLIGHT GARDENS, a gorgeous restaurant in the round, with a live tree in the center underneath, you guessed it, a skylight, Tables are set with white cloths, spaced for conversation and service is commensurate with the classy surroundings. The menu consists of what you might call L.A. standards, chicken, steaks, short ribs, salmon, pasta etc. Main courses are in the upper twenties and middle thirties. Your best bet is to share some hot and cold appetizers, which are exceptionally delectable and generously portioned. Three for a pre-theatre party of two is just right. Recommended: the meatballs, three biggies perched on a round of polenta, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan, if wished and their combo of grilled (or fried) calamari and zucchini with a side of spicy dip, $14 each. The tuna tartare, served with toast slices and a garnish of chicory, is a steep $18 but also very good. We were going to order the eggplant rollatini as well but glad we didn't, our three were quite filling. The only demerit is for the temperature of the food. Due to being placed on cold plates, the hot dishes were anything but. Their wine list is excellent, not overpriced, with glasses from $9 - $13. Drive time to the Geffen, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Skylight Gardens, 11339 Glendon at Lindbrook Avenue, Westwood 90024. Full bar. Valet parking $4 for two hours, (310) 492-4888

Reviewed and written by Ingrid Wilmot



THE WHIPPING MAN by Matthew Lopez

This gripping, extraordinary play is about a family of Jewish slave owners which may seem an aberration and morally reprehensible, especially to a Jewish audience. But it is historically accurate, pertaining to the South in 1865. It opens on one of many dark and stormy nights (excellent sound effects by Bill Froggart), when a gravely wounded Confederate soldier crashes through the door and collapses. That would be Caleb de Leon (Shawn Savage), whose family once owned this lovely home, now dilapidated and almost destroyed. We see a broken, boarded up window, a few crates and peeling wallpaper; only an old brass bed is left standing. The current residents are Simon (Ricco Ross) and John (Kirk Kelleykahn), two former slaves who have embraced the Jewish faith and wear yarmulkas. The disillusioned soldier, after enduring four harrowing years of war, over at last, now finds his entire family has gone from Richmond, Virginia to seek asylum elsewhere and the three men disclose and discover secrets that unite and divide them, the gist of this remarkable tale.

Howard Teichman, the Artistic Director of the West Coast Jewish Theatre, the producing company, directs with a sensitive and unerring hand and has a dream cast with which to work. The tall, dignified, charismatic Ross carries the entire play on his strong shoulders. He is mesmerizing in his narratives and completely at home with comedy, as he plans a makeshift Passover Seder and pulls it off with a mix of Hebrew prayers and gospel tunes. Kelleyhahn's character is more complicated. He first comes across as a mischievous clown, "procuring" supplies and comestibles but he soon emerges as a more sinister, vindictive opportunist, effectively inhabiting both impersonations. Savage, the suffering son of a cruel father, disenchanted Jew and heartbroken lover, in a difficult role, which can easily turn maudlin, is equally impressive. By the way, the whipping man is the unseen individual who punished the slaves when they displeased their masters. This is a gritty, at times brutally honest piece of work, expertly staged and performed here and a rare "must see".

Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles 90064. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm. $35, seniors $33. Street parking. (323) 821-2449 or The West Coast Jewish Playhouse Ends 4/13

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Even though in a different Zip Code, it's only a ten minute drive to the Pico Playhouse from SOTTO, Italian for "under". The restaurant is located in the basement of the previously reviewed Picca Restaurant but it is no bargain basement, by any means. Their California and Italian wine prices are way up there, the cheapest glass going for $13. Chef Zach Pollak's food, however, is very creative and you can suit yourself by ordering from the small (from $5 - 10), medium (from $13 for mussels) or large ($22 for a half chicken, $29 a whole orato, $35 for a pork chop), edible selections. And, of course, there's pizza. We didn't find anything titillating on the small plate menu but the mediums have some exciting choices. We shared a cauliflower-almond soup, listed with chili and capers (didn't find any), which was superb, even though the superfluous sultanas (golden raisins) added a slightly sweet flavor. Nevertheless, the bowl, manna for a chilly night, ended up dishwasher clean. We love octopus and they do a remarkable job with it. My whole, tomato-braised al farci tentacle, end curl intact, was surrounded by garbanzo beans in a pungent sauce of pureed black kale, breadcrumbs and burrata, with citrus overtones, $10. Spaghetti in a (not very) spicy, creamy sauce of minced octopus, black kale and burrata sounded similar but tasted quite differently, albeit also delicious, the pasta very al dente, a rich and wonderful dish, same price. The place is very chic, sort of sophisticated rustic, with lots of dark wood (table, ceiling, wine rack) and a glassed in kitchen, fashionably noisy and very popular. There's a lively bar scene, when two attractive female mixologists concoct and shake craft cocktails. The friendly service makes up in civility what it lacks in alacrity and first timers are given a rundown on the different portion sizes etc., all in all, a culinary adventure for eclectic palates.

Sotto, 9575 W. Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles 90035, Full bar. Valet parking $6.50. (310) 277-0210.

Written and reviewed by INGRID WILMOT



FROM THE BEST OF THE FEST

Every year, the local cultural scene is graced by THE WOMEN'S THEATRE FESTIVAL, which will take place in March (see below for details). Meanwhile, the organization is presenting FROM THE BEST OF THE FEST, to whet your appetite. They've gathered some of the acclaimed participants of past years, to showcase their talent in encore presentations of female solo performances, currently playing at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena.

We saw Amy Milano (Dancing with Crazies), Milano, a zaftig but nimble dancer, actress and comedian currently doing stand-up work in the Los Angeles area, who entertained us with her gypsy-like life story. On a set containing an array of trunks and suitcases and with the help of an effective sound track, this New Yorker took us along on a journey that included tap dancing in Ghana, the study of African choreography beginning in London, Shakespearean monologue practice in Jamaica and so on, along with adept mimicking of her unusual family and friends.

Second on the bill was Juliette Jeffers (ChocolateMatch.com). Jeffers is an African-American actress whose busy website is devoted to finding the right man with whom to spend the rest of her life. With her biological clock ticking mercilessly in the background, we were privy to her adventures - and misadventures- in the online dating game. The Bronx-born, endearing, self deprecating but ever optimistic Jeffers was fun to watch and we wish her well on her intrepid search for true love.

Next weekend, you can still catch Kim Coles (Oh, But Wait, There's More!) in her one woman show "Still Standing". February 20th and 21st at 8 pm, February 23rd at 3 pm. Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Avenue at El Centro, South Pasadena 91030. $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Students, seniors and groups of twelve or more, $15. (866)811-4111 or The Fremont Centre Theatre

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Not quite five minutes from the Fremont, is a charming Italian restaurant called BRIGANTI. Softly lit with a pleasant vibe, very low volume operatic tapes, a corner bar, small, framed art along the walls and a covered patio.. They have pizza (we didn't see a single table ordering one) with more interesting stuff on the menu, such as carpaccio Cipriano, as a starter. Thin, lean, raw beef with capers is fanned out beneath a heap of lightly lemon and oil-dressed, wild baby arugula, a hefty $12.50 but very nice, with their basket of focaccia and Italian bread. There's a large pasta menu, from $13 for fettuccine Alfredo to $18 for capellini al granchio with chopped tomatoes and Dungeness crab. We didn't actually see any crab flakes but surely could taste the flavor of this precious crustacean in the delicious cream sauce. Main courses run from $15.50 for chicken to $27 for a veal chop. In between, there's salmon $19, cioppino $24 and a really wonderful filet of sole with capers, alongside mashed potatoes, spinach with garlic, half moon-shaped yellow squash and carrot spears $20. No bargains but carefully prepared food and excellent service. If you have room for dessert, they have bread pudding, panna cotta and a fabulous, dense, rich, flourless chocolate cake, generous and expensive enough to share. Their wine list has good selections, with glasses going from $9.

Briganti, 1423 Mission Street, South Pasadena 91030. Full bar.Street parking (626)441-4663

ADVANCE NOTICE: Next month, the 21st ANNUAL LOS ANGELES WOMEN 'S THEATRE FESTIVAL will be held at the Electric Lodge Theatre in Venice, each event with celebrity hosts.

3/27:Champagne Gala & Awards Ceremony, 7pm Program: Giving Voice. Ingrid Graham, dancer, in The Passage and Tia Matza in Grief and Grace. 8 pm

3/28: Program: Transformations. Tracy Silver Motion Cures, Sofia Marie Gonzales, Bully-Mia and Katie Rubin Why I Died 8 pm.

3/29: 3 pm Program: Mirrored Reflections. Cynthia Ling Lee Rapture, Ansuya Nathan, Long Live the King , Marlene Ondrea Nichols, Dress Kiss Me and Lisa Marie Rollins Ungrateful Daughter. 8pm Program: Rising Above. Dacyl Acevedo, Will Work For, Jozanne Marie, Beautiful, Anita Noble, Polly Bemis.

Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue, Venice 90291.Gala tickets $45 or two for $80 (includes light fare and champagne). All other programs $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Student, seniors and groups of twelve or more $15. (8180760-0408 or Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival Theater

Reviewed and written by INGRID WILMOT



NIGHT WATCH by Lucille Fletcher

Attention, mystery fans, here's your challenge! If you can figure out whodunnit before the final curtain, you're a lot smarter than the playwright thinks you are. But, don't count on it. This is the plotline: It's 1970 and, in a drop-dead gorgeous Manhattan apartment with fine art and a working fireplace (set by the infallible Jeff G. Rack), we see the beautiful, petite, strawberry-blonde Elaine (Jennifer Laks) walking floor at five in the morning, smoking and humming "Frêre Jacques". She glances out the window and suddenly screams in anguish. Across the street, in a ramshackle building, she sees a dead man slumped in a chair. Her husband, John (tall, elegant Martin Thompson), a Wall Street broker, tries to calm her but she insists on involving the police. Absolutely nobody believes her. In fact, her constant phone calls to Lt. Walker (David Hunt Stafford) so annoy this cop, that he just as soon not respond anymore. O.K. folks, the lieutenant and his flunky Gonzales (Jonathan Medina), a former museum guard who is more interested in the art displayed in the apartment than crime solving, didn't do it. But, here's your list of suspects. Besides hubby: Elaine's best friend Blanche (Christine Joelle), an almost constant presence in the Wheeler home; Curtis Appleby (Larry Ohlson) the overbearing, flamboyant neighbor; Sam Hoke (John McGuire), owner of a local delicatessen; Dr. Lee (Leda Suskind), a professional psychiatrist summoned to make a house call and Helga (Judy Natzemetz), the German housekeeper. Take your pick.

The cast is solid and under the aegis of Bruce Grey, this theatre's eminent Resident Director. The lovely Laks is quite believable as the hysterical, to9rmented lady of the house. Thompson seems like a devoted husband but we wonder whether he could be sweet on the statuesque, blonde Joelle, a professional nurse about to be employed by the Mayo Clinic. Ohlson provides some comic relief as the neighborhood gossip, keen on occupying the Wheeler's fabulous digs. McGuire has his two minutes on stage as the irate deli man, "armed" with a big flashlight and Nazemetz' servant is so Germanic, one expects her to break into a goose step at any moment. David Hunt Stafford, Theatre 40's Artistic Managing Director and usually the star of the pre-curtain announcements, treads the boards here in the guise of a brusque detective, equipped with a Nooyawk accent, while lukewarm on the trail of a moider suspect. While not the white-knuckle thriller of the author's famous script, "Sorry, Wrong Number", it's a pleasant diversion for devotees of this genre who make a game out of who can be the first to finger the villain.

Theatre 40, Reuben Cordoba Theatre, 241 Moreno Drive on the grounds of Beverly Hills High School, Beverly Hills , 90210. Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Monday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $24 - 26. Free parking in building garage. (310) 364-0535 or Theater 40. ends 2/24

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A few minutes west of Theatre 40 in the Westfield Mall, is the PINK TACO, whose prominent sign is visible even from the Boulevard. The taco in this town, appears positioned t dethrone burger and pizzas as our street food fave and the Pink Taco is definitely hot. The place is nearly as big a football field, counting the patio, and very popular. Reservations are accepted and advised for pre-curtain dining. The large enter bar is always full (Happy Hour here is from 3 to 7 pm daily) and the room is bathed in pink light, emanating from yellow and red bulbs on the ceiling. They seated us near the kitchen from which fragrant aromas filled our nostrils, in a booth studded with ornate, brass crosses, giving it the aura of a confessional, where we prayed for our dinner to arrive. May I say, this can be considered "fast" food but it was very slow to arrive on this night. To pass the time, one can sip Margaritas, cocteles or wine, from $9 per glass. They have enchiladas around $10, appetizers like ceviche for $12, tacos from fish to brisket $12 - $15 and the food we (finally) tasted, was terrific. We also ordered carnitas tacos but they were already sold out early in the evening. Instead, the carne asada tacos, tender, top quality beef morsels, same price, were worth the wait, with grated cheese, pico de gallo and guacamole tucked into three soft tacos alongside Mexican rice and refried beans. Unfortunately, they were barely lukewarm. Service here, to their credit, is caring and cordial. The Manager, Eric Livingston, checked in several times during the course of the evening and, hearing that dinner was more cold than hot, in a generous gesture, took the tacos off the bill. The verdict is, they are trying hard to please and the excellent flavors of the cocina are indisputable. We would come here again.

Pink Taco, Westfield Century City Mall, 10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Century City 90067. Full bar. Open daily from 11 am to 10 pm, Friday and Saturday until 11 pm Parking in Century City Garage (try for the Blue Section and allow 15 minutes to locate a spot) Reservations (310) 789-1000

THEATRE NOTE; Jerry Mayer's play ASPIRIN & ELEPHANTS, has made a triumphant return after several years and it's as much fun as ever. At the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th Street Santa Monica, until March 16th. (3100394-9779. Alert for folk music lovers: The five talented, young women known as CHERISH THE LADIES, make an appearance at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Avenue near Del Mar Blvd., in Pasadena. This delightful group of Irish instrumentalists and vocalists, is a rare treat for all ages (626) 395-4652. In a smaller venue, also on Campus, the Beckman Institute, you can enjoy the wonderful duo of STEVE GILLETT & CINDY MANGSEN (folkies know he wrote the classic Darcy Farrow), on Saturday March 22nd, sponsored by the PASADENA FOLK MUSIC SOCIETY, (626) 395-4652. PLANNING AHEAD? Devotees of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show, will welcome that star couple, ROBIN & LINDA WILLIAMS to the same venue, the Beckman Institute, on May 3rd. Get your tickets early, they always sell out. Pasadena Folk Music Society (626) 395-4652 or The Folkmusic Society. All shows at 8 pm. See you there!

Reviewed and written by INGRID WILMOT



THE 39 STEPS, adapted by Patrick Barlow, based on John Buchan's book

The late, great Alfred Hitchcock would be pleased to see what Barlow, Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon's original concept have done to his 1935 thriller. Not only have they maintained the mysterious aspects of the story but it's the embellishments that add up to a uniquely entertaining show, impeccably directed by Ken Parks. Hitch gets his due via split-second vignettes from some of his famous films. It takes place before World War II and, this much I'll tell you, the Nazis are the bad guys.

Handsome, British bachelor Richard Hannay (the athletic Jeffrey Cannata), as a platonic gesture, shelters a foreign-sounding woman, Annabella (Karen Jean Olds) for the night, only to find her murdered the next morning. Naturally, he is (wrongly) accused of the dirty deed, escapes the police and sets off a manhunt across the U.K. It's all done with minimal props manipulated by the actors, with the help of Christine Munich's lighting, Chris Warren's sound and Greg Forbes' technical tricks. On stage, we see train trips, car rides, a plane crash etc., all smartly executed. And when doors open on windy days, we, the audience, can almost feel the draft. As wonderful as the surprising staging is, the ultimate credit goes to the actors. Congrats to the Casting Director who found this quartet of talented performers to play over a hundred parts. Cannata, the attractive leading man is an elegant Brit with perfect diction but never snobbish, who keeps his cool facing unknown enemies and dangerous predicaments. The comedy is elevated to the highest level by the duo of Kenny Landmon and Louis Lotorto. These quick-change artists never fall out of character, whatever they may be at the moment. Landmon, the tall one, shines as a London Palladium star, a railroad conductor, a bagpipe-playing Scotsman and more. The short one, Lotorto, makes like a villain, a sheriff, a detective etc. They both portray several women with uncanny comedic skill and affect half a dozen different accents, not all of which are intelligible, I might add. Olds, as the lone female enacts only three parts, including Hannay's love interest but her workload is not as heavy. The many amusing directorial touches will keep you LOL as The 39 Steps moves with lightning speed, true to the old adage "never a dull moment". It's one of the cleverest shows you'll ever have the good fortune to catch. Miss it at your peril. NOTE: The show moves to the Annenberg Theatre in Palm Spring upon closing of this run.

Norris Theatre, 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates, 90274. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $40. Children under 12, $25. Free parking in adjoining garage. (310)544-0403 or www.norriscenter.com ends 2/9

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Folks on the Palos Verdes Peninsula mourned the closure of GIORGIO'S, which was a fixture on The Hill since 1974, owned by the Borelli family. The good news is, they have re-opened in the former location of CafÄ Cego's. The place is all spruced up, with new floor, new ceiling, pleasant lighting and an additional, cozy room with a familiar looking wall mural, painted by the same artist who did the one in the old house. Furthermore, the food seems to taste even better now and business is booming. SoCal dineries have been overcharging on wine, so you'll be pleasantly surprised that most bottles are in the twenties, glasses go from $6. Service is very attentive and fresh bread and an Italian salsa arrive almost when you do. The menu has all your favorite Italian dishes and more. Prices are not cheap but fair. On a chilly winter evening we didn't want to start with a cold salad but asked for a small pasta portion to share. A nice serving of capellini with marinara sauce was $9 and went down slurpingly. They do good work with veal in several guises, judging by my piccata with lemon and capers, thin, tender slices, beautifully sauced and served with potato wedges and a fresh veggie mix, $23.95. As I said, not cheap but worth the price. A pork chop in Dijon mustard sauce is $21.95. When ordering pork, we always specify "medium" because most cooks, bless 'em, keep them in the pan too long, which was the case this night and rendered the meat a little tough. Nothing serious but pinker would have been better. The sauce, however, was divine with good-size mushroom caps, potatoes and the night's vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, carrots zucchini and, what looked like garlic cloves but turned out to be carved yellow squash, delicious. The drive to the Norris will take you barely five minutes. Welcome back, Giorgio's!

Giorgio's 777 Deep Valley Drive, Rolling Hill Estates, 90274. Weekday lunch, dinner nightly. Beer and wine. Street parking. (310)541-2600.

Reviewed and written by INGRID WILMOT


BECKY'S NEW CAR by Steven Dietz

Dietz' light hearted romp is given a pleasing production by the Kentwood Players, perfect for this time of year, when the holiday merriment has given way to the winter blues, overdue bills etc. Becky Foster (Cherry Norris) works at a car dealership, is married to a roofer named Joe (Bob Grochau) and has a grown son, Chris (Jaymie Bellous) still living at home. Sound dull and ordinary? Just wait! One night, a rich widower, Walter (Dylan Brody) stumbles into her office, planning to guy gifts for his employees, one car each. And that's when sparks light up Becky's contented but uneventful life. Walter can't stop talking about his dead wife while rapidly becoming infatuated with the perky Becky. She accepts an invitation to a party at his elegant abode by the lake, where she meets Walter's daughter, Kenni (Jaqueline Borowski) and mingles with sophisticated guests like Ginger (the flamboyant Maria Pavone), a recently impoverished millionaires but a spunky lady with sizeable cajones.

The repartee is scintillating but down to earth and the story keeps us guessing. After all, Becky's marriage is long past the spine (and other organs) -tingling stage and the question remains, will she or won't she? There are frequent, amusing interactions with the audience and performances are mostly very good. Norris, a tall, slim, attractive brunette, who looks like a mature soccer mom, is a constant delight as she breaks the fourth wall confiding her innermost thoughts. Brochau, as the husband, displays a dry wit and is the epitome of "mister nice guy". Brody's Walter has enough charm (and money) to lead a woman into temptation. Bellous, as the young psych student is physically well suited to the role of the son but his often mechanical delivery is unimpressive. Craig Bruenell, Becky's co-worker, is the typical office nebbish, but likeable. The apt direction is by Susan Stangl, set design by Drew Fitzsimmons, costumes by Sheridan Cole. Now, let's hear it for Steven Dietz, the talented playwright of this entertaining piece, who doesn't get a bio in the program. Boooo!

Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Avenue, Los Angeles 90045. Friday and Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $18, seniors and students $16, same price for military personnel and Metro riders). (310)645-5156. Box Office hours, Wednesday - Saturday 4 - 7 pm. Or The Kentwood Players at Westchester Playhouse ends 2/15

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: The Westchester Playhouse sits in the middle of a gastronomic desert but if you drive towards LAX, THE PROUD BIRD is still flying. This, if not a national treasure, is, certainly, a local one with a fifty- year history of hospitality in Los Angeles. There was a lot of consternation towards the end of last year, when the restaurant was threatened with demolition but the blade of the guillotine has been halted and, happily, they are still cooking and serving every weekend. As soon as you enter the parking lot, you're among vintage airplanes. The interior is bedecked with historic aviation photographs and the tables along a wall of glass have you practically placed in the control tower, as you watch the iron giants roar to a landing.

The menu is all-American; soups $7, starters from $11 for spinach and artichoke dip. Entrees from $19 for fish n'chips, $22 for chicken scallopine, fish from $29, short ribs $32, plus assorted steak cuts. We were going to order one prime rib $26 and one scampi in white wine and garlic butter $25, but discovered, at the bottom of the menu that these two come in a combo for $44. A deal! We asked whether we could share that and they were very accommodating and brought an extra plate without a split charge. The shrimp were crunchy, subtly and tastefully sauced, with pilaf and a salad garnish. The prime rib was also excellent with a loaded baked potato and very good, fresh vegetables. With the $7 savings, we got a glass of wine from the modest list, actually $7.50 for a Canyon Road Chardonnay from California and there are plenty of fancy cocktails for your enjoyment. Visiting the Proud Bird has all the excitement of a plane trip, without shlepping your carry-ons, waiting in lines and dealing with the TSA. You'll be glad you had a chance to experience this landmark dinner house, which is only about ten or twelve minutes from the theatre.

The Proud Bird, 11026 Aviation Boulevard, Los Angeles, 90045. Lunch and dinner 11 am - 8 pm Friday and Saturday, Sunday brunch 9 am - 3 pm. Full bar. Parking lot. Private events accommodated anytime. (310)670-3093.

Reviewed by INGRID WILMOT


PICK OF THE VINE (FOR INDIVIDUAL CREDITS SEE BELOW)

At the beginning of every year, LITTLE FISH THEATRE brings us PICK OF THE VINE, a selection of short plays, chosen from hundreds of entries submitted by playwrights from here, there and everywhere. These are as diverse as the grapes blended to create fine vintages. This year's harvest includes some sour grapes but is balanced enough to concoct a heady brew. So, cheers and a Happy 2014!

THE DEATH OF A SALE, MAN, by David Graham
Shopping for a used car has never been more fun, as a headstrong couple (Christina Desiere and Bill Wolski) bargain with a horny salesman (Perry Shields). A perfect curtain raiser with a surprise ending. Directed by James Rice.

THE MILKMAN by M J Halberstadt
A sixth grader (Rhiannon Franck-Thomson, in a rather lifeless performance) and a milkman (Scott T. Finn), raise the question of paternity. Directed by Perry Shields.

THE BUTTON PUSHERS by Ruben Carbajal
This odd vignette about important moral decisions is not half as funny as it should be and certainly not as hilarious as one audience member who guffawed like a planted laugh-shill, found it. But tastes differ and you can't blame the actors. Gary Robbins, the terrific Bill Wolski as the husband and his (real life) wife, Holly Baker-Kreiswirth, always deliver the goods. Directed by Perry Shields.

A MILLION TIMES OVER by Molly Campbell
Set in a nursing home, the wheelchair-bound Gloria Maxwell cherishes the memories and mementos of her youth. The simpatico doctor is Scott T. Finn, the cantankerous nurse, Susie McCarthy. Directed by James Rice.

TWO MINUTES OF HEROISM - A ONE MINUTE PLAY by Matt Hanf
This short play, featuring the entire cast in a televised bank robbery, falls as flat as the sediment in a bottle of poor vintage. Directed by Danielle Ozymandias.

NOTE; The crush starts to ferment and bubble like champagne in some of the pieces, after intermission. So don't any body leave!

ROMEO & JULIET ACT VI - THE GLOOMIEST PEACE by Ken Ferigni
This parody of Shakespeare's tragic love story is a riot and allows all the actors to come into their own, especially the multi-talented Susie McCarthy in dual roles, is unforgettable. Smartly written and excellently performed. Directed by Danielle Ozymandias.

THE ULTIMATE BATTLE FOR TOTAL CONTROL OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE By Rick Orloff
Two youngsters, (Rhiannon Frank-Thompson and Scott T. Flynn), at play with dueling lasers and super heroic ambitions are basically just a pair of adolescents about to discover the difference between boys and girls. Cute concept. Directed by Perry Shields.

OBITS by Romney Humphrey
All cast members get to read a variety of obituaries, some flattering and sugar coated, some altogether truthful, which will probably never see print. Finally, Gloria Maxwell reads one composed by a deceased as a love letter to his widow. She's moved to tears and emotionally overcome - unfortunately, nobody else is. Directed by James Rice.

MAN ON A BRIDGE WITH BOOK by Stan Peal
A clever spoof of what it may be like to gain admission into the Pearly Gates, with wonderful performances by an ensemble of five, headed by that cool couple. Wolski and Baker-Kreiswirth. Directed by James Rice.

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre Street at 8th, San Pedro 90731. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 1/26 & 2/2, Thursday 2/13. $27, senior $24. Free parking, enter thro ugh the alley. (310) 512-6030 or The Little Fish Theatre ends 2/15

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Less than ten minutes drive time from the Little Fish, is NAZELIE'S, a hospitable, little place with really tasty Lebanese food and comforting prices. You can BYOB, no corkage, graceful stemware is supplied. Need some atmosphere? It's got pretty floor tiles, live plants and statuary placed into alcoves along the wall. Entrees include choice of wheat or regular pita bread to dip into the complimentary hummus, as well a soup or salad. The latter thick as Thule fog and absolutely delicious. The salad is nice, too. Romaine leaves with a few cucumber, red onion and tomato slices, in homemade vinaigrette. Baked chicken, assorted kabobs and shawarma are on the bill of fare, from $10.50 to $19 (for filet mignon). Lula kabobs of beef 10.50 or lamb $12, the latter ground meat, impeccably seasoned, is highly recommended. It is joined by rice pilaf, a grilled pepper plus a salad. My chicken shawarma, I have to say, was overcooked and a mite dry but can be rescued by the garlic sauce which, I suggest, you liberally pour over the chicken bits and all will be well. It is plated with pilaf, yummy pickled turnips and tiny, dynamite yellow peppers, so spicy, tears will roll down your cheeks, so be warned, $10.50. Portions are generous and doggie bags cheerfully distributed by your friendly server. This is one of San Pedro's few, family-owned, mama-papa places, an endangered species to be cherished and enjoyed.

Nazelie's, 1919 S. Pacific Avenue, San Pedro 90731. Park in front. Catering. BYOB. Open daily from 11 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday until 10 pm. Closed Monday. (310) 519-1919.

Reviewed and written by INGRID WILMOT


PARFUMERIE by Miklos Laszlo

Long time Westside theatergoers, who are still sulking over the loss of The Tiffany and Canon Theatres, have reason to rejoice. The Wallis in Beverly Hills is a beautiful, new venue, situated between the two Santa Monica Boulevards and easy to locate. There's ample parking and (never enough but more than expected) ladies' toilets. You'll get lost for the first time but the helpful staff will steer you in the right direction, while giving you the opportunity to ogle the architecture etc.

For its inaugural production, the Wallis has chosen a cute play. Set at Christmas time in Budapest, before World War II. If you have a good memory, the plot will be familiar via three different motion pictures with the identical theme, The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You've Got Mail. The story revolves around an elegant perfume shop and the private lives of its proprietor and employees. There's an old fashioned quality to the production, its characters pleasant if not terribly exciting, the denouement predictable even if you never saw any of the movies. The costumes, designed by Michael Krass, have that hat to shoes authentic Continental look of the thirties and Allen Moyer's set, adorned and furnished to the minutest detail is absolutely spectacular. It's so luxurious, you can almost smell the fragrance of expensive lotions, potions, soaps and perfumes scenting the air. Director Mark Brokaw' flair dominates the production, performed by a cast without a single weak link.

In principal roles are Richard Schiff as Mr. Hammerschmidt, the owner, whose eminence grise adds dignity to a part rife with personal problems. Arye Gross, Mr. Sipos, the senior sales clerk, is concerned about h is job security. Mark Walton plays Mr. Kadar, a fore flushing freeloader. Eddie Kaye Thomas is George Horvath, a handsome fellow who has been carrying on an epistolary romance with an unknown (to him) woman and the sylph-like Deborah Ann Woll, as Miss Amalia Balash, is a lonely, little shop girl who needs Santa to bring her some self-esteem. If one were to single out one unforgettable performance among these fine actors, it would be Jacob Kemp's, as the gangly gofer Arpad Nowack, low man on the employee totem pole but top grabber of our affection.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Bram Goldsmith Theatre, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. Beverly Hills 90210. Tuesday - Friday 8 pm, Saturday 3 & 8 pm, Sunday 7 pm. $49 - $129. 310-746-4000 The Wallis Valet parking available. Self parking in underground garage, enter on Little Santa Monica, $8. Also beneath City Hall, $6 after 6pm enter on 450 N. Crescent Drive. For another option, see Dining Suggestion below. ends 12/22

Pre-Theatre Dining Suggestion: Just a short walk, catty-corner from the Wallis, is NIK'S BEVERLY HILLS, a contemporary establishment done mostly in pristine white, tastefully designed, softly lit and the closest dining option for this new venue. For pre-theatre repasts, small plates of interesting nibbles always hit the spot. Recommended are a triple treat called Dippedy Dip, three exotic dips with the curried eggplant especially outstanding. Duck and Duck Paté (we didn't find a single sliver of duck) but a tiny slice of silken paté, garnished with cornichons, grainy mustard, a dollop of apricot preserves and crackers as well as octopus panzanella, grilled chunks of octopus with cherry tomatoes, greens, feta cheese and croutons, each of the above, $14 and uniformly delicious. There's that wonderful La Brea Bakery bread and pita triangles, to sate you. I did check out the dessert menu for a possible shared, sweet finale but to be honest, the price tag put me off. I mean, $14??!! Dinner entrees are up there, too, fish and seafood $29 - $37, meat dishes around $20.There are exciting cocktail being shaken here, inventive martinis not stirred and vodka poured but the by the glass selection of wines is dismal, starting at $12 for a Coppola Chardonnay from Sonoma. Service is top notch and the convenient parking situation is another plus.

Nic's Beverly Hills, 453 N. Canon Drive at Little Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, 90210. Full bar. Valet parking $7 and you may leave your car and retrieve it after the performance. Nic's is open late, a good excuse for a nightcap. (310) 550-5707

Reviewed by Ingrid Wilmot



LIGHT UP THE SKY by Moss Hart

In an elaborately furnished suite of Boston's Ritz-Carlton, belonging to Irene Livingston (the beautiful Stephanie Erb), theatrical superstar and diva to the core and her nebbish of a husband Tyler (Bryan Bertone), we get a glimpse of the backstage shenanigans before and after opening night of a new play in its out of town tryout. This beloved classic is penned by a man thoroughly acquainted with life in the theatre. His credits include The Great Waltz, Lady in the Dark, You Can't Take it With You and many, many more, in addition to sketches, librettos and screenplays. Even though the story is set in 1948, it has the genuine smell of greasepaint and the authentic flavors of anticipation that surrounds every opening, which is relevant to this day. It's also very funny, including a delightful scene with a stage-struck, visiting Shriner (John Combs).

La Livingston holds court among her manager, the frequently hysterical Sidney Black (Arthur Hanket), his glamorous wife, Frances (Meredith Thomas), who's smarter than she looks and her confidante, the acerbic Stella (Flora Plumb), who is the mother of leading lady Irene, has all the best lines and delivers them with tongue in both cheeks. Also in attendance is first time playwright Peter Sloan (Nick Denning), who's shy and somewhat intimidated by the vociferous, old pros, including successful author Owen Turner (Martin Thompson) and the wonderful David Hunt Stafford as an emotional designer. Except for a few opening night flubs, the ensemble, directed by David McClendon, interacts remarkably well. One could have done with a little less yelling, especially in the second act, and a few toned-down performances. But the play is really fun to watch, the set by the talented Jeff G. Rack excellent as always and the fabulous costumes, designed by Michéle Young, make the women look more gorgeous than they have a right to be. This gem is not dated - it's authentic. When somebody orders chicken a la king from room service, sixty-five years ago, that was the menu of the moment.

Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theatre, on the campus of Beverly Hills High School, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills 90212. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm, (dark 11/28 & 29) $24 - $26. Free parking in building garage. (310) 364-1535 or Theatre 40 ends 12/22

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: So close is Theatre 40 to JOSS, you could park and walk to and fro. The downstairs area with its eight tables is not much bigger than your kitchen, very pretty with softy illuminated ceiling panels. But not to worry, there's lots more room for you on the upper level. We usually bemoan the fact that two people cannot, really, have the proper Chinese experience of a variety of flavors and textures. But it's possible here, to cobble together a more than satisfactory dinner for a couple, with an appetizer, main dish and accompaniment. Here's how: You're familiar with lettuce wrapped, chopped chicken or squab. At Joss, they do it vegetarian style, crunchy, little cubed vegetables, to be ladled onto three young romaine leaves. Pssst, there are only enough veggies for two leaves, $8.50. Next, you order the Mongolian lamb, honestly the best I've ever tasted, extremely tender meat with scallions almost the size of leeks, in a courageously spiced sauce (watch out for the red chili peppers) $18.50. You need something to tone down the heat, their rice speckled with peas and green onions and scented with ginger, does the trick, $6.50. If you're lucky and find yourself in the company of a few more Chinese food fans, you'll surely enjoy a multi-course feast among their traditional selections. Those with good memories and educated palates, may remember Joss from its previous location on Sunset Boulevard. Still as expensive as ever but their culinary skills have not regressed.

Joss, 9919 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, 90212. Tight street parking, more meter available in the municipal lots in the rear. (310)277-3888.

Reviewed by Ingrid Wilmot



CREDITORS by August Strindberg, adapted by David Greig

At a Swedish seaside resort, two men who appear to be strangers, embark upon conversation on multi-faceted subjects, all of them provocative. The action is set in 1888 but not much has changed. The language was more civilized then, but people are still filled with jealousy and envy, wives are still flirtatious and marriage is unpredictable as ever.

A handsome, young man, Adolf (Burt Grinstead) is working on a sculpture. By his side are crutches without which he seems unable to walk. A distinguished-looking, older gentleman, Gustaf (Jack Stehlin) engages him in a heated discussion, a lot of which centers around Adolf's wife, Tekla (Heather Anne Prete) whose arrival from a shopping trip, is anxiously awaited. We wonder, is Gustaf the woman-hater he appears to be or is his animosity directed solely towards Tekla? Creditors shows Strindberg at his enigmatic, moody self and Greig's adaptation does not dull the acerbic bite of the playwright's world view but knowing too much more in advance might lessen the story's impact. It's a psychological game played with competitive zeal by three complex personalities, accustomed to winning every argument. The three actors are in full command with perfect diction and timing. David Trainer effectively directs this fascinating Los Angeles premiere. A ninety minute intermission-less co-production of Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and New American Theatre. Thomas A. Walsh designed the coolly elegant set.

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles 90025. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 8 pm, Saturday 2 & 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $25 - $30. Seniors and students $20 (except on Saturday, $15 on Friday). Supervised parking in front $3. (310)477-2055 ext 2 or The Odyssey Theatre ends 12/15

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Two blocks west of the Odyssey is a street nicknamed Little Osaka. It has dozens of Asian restaurants and, it seems, only ten parking spaces. Finding FLORES is almost as difficult. No visible signage except at the valet station. There are two patios in the front, one almost completely enclosed. The main interior dining room has some counter seats for those who wish to observe the kitchen action up close. It's a cute spot, built like a little house but so dark, you need a Seeing Eye dog to decipher the menu. The cuisine, unlike that of the neighboring establishments, is American/eclectic with some unusual choices to bring out the adventurer in you. You can share or go it alone, prices are reasonable. Collard greens with ham hock bits taste so authentic, they should speak with a Southern drawl, $6. A main course of grilled octopus, two large tentacles, perfectly textured, with lot of fingerling potatoes and grape tomatoes and spiked with the zing of anchovies, is an exciting dish, $16. If that's too outré for you, you can always go for the hanger steak $21 or share an order of striped bass. A glass of wine starts at $9 and service attains the same high standards as the food.

Flores, 2024 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles 90025. Weekday lunch, dinner nightly, Saturday & Sunday brunch. Beer & Wine. Valet Parking $5. (424) 273-6469

Reviewed By Ingrid Wilmot



MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET by Tom Dudzick

For years, the Nowaks, a Polish-American family living in Buffalo, New York, have perpetrated the colorful myth that the Holy Virgin appeared in their grandfather's barbershop. They have erected a statue and a shrine in her honor and the mother, Clara (Ellen Crawford) has built up something of a cottage industry, selling "miracle" soup and collecting coins the believers dropped into the discreetly placed cash box. When the truth is finally revealed, the consternation among son Jimmy (Brian Ibsen) and the two daughters, Beverly (Meghan Andrews) and Ruth (Karianne Flaathen), is rampant. And, that's all you're going to read here. This cute play is full of humor and surprises and will keep you thoroughly amused until the final curtain. Just when you thought you've heard it all, playwright Dudzick has something more up his sleeve.

These blue collar types are lovable and believable. Ibsen, the son, is a garbage collector with a permanent twinkle in his eye and he seems a bit more worldly than the rest. Crawford plays it to the hilt, she's a bit of a drama queen and a very devout Catholic. She could apply for a papal position if the Vatican gave women half a chance. Andrews works in a ketchup factory and would have been cast in this part among hundreds of other applicants. Flaathen, an aspiring author and actress, who is responsible for the big debunk, has a dream and determination in equal measure. We hope she breaks a leg (maybe after praying to that statue). Under Brian Shnipper's sprightly direction, they're all perfect. They may not have class but they've got plenty of sass and the going on in the Nowak kitchen (set by Jeff McLaughlin) will put you in a cheerful mood, just in time for the holidays.

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street at Cypress, Burbank 91502. Thursday & Friday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. (dark 11/29 - 12/1). $25-$45. Ninety minutes, no intermission. Free parking in garage by the entrance to The Colony. (818) 508-1754 or The Colony Theatre ends 12/16

A five minute drive, or you could park and walk, brings you to OCTOPUS, a Japanese fusion restaurant. A beautiful space, with subdued red and blue light accents, some tree branches overhead, a wall of woven wood and, of course, a sushi bar. The setting looks serene but it's actually pretty noisy. We've got to get used to that, I'm afraid. The sign on the door is confusing. I thought it said Happy Hour daily until 9 pm. In truth, it starts at 3 pm, ends at 6 pm then starts again at 9 until closing time, around 10:30. We just made it under the wire before six and dinner was such a bargain and so tasty, we're definitely coming back. A small sake is $1.85, wine from $5. A sectioned tray with condiments (wasabi, sliced ginger etc.) arrives at once and service is cheery. We ordered three goodies, seaweed salad over baby greens, to which we added a few sprinkles of soy to counteract the sweetness. You may love it just the way it is, it's delicious and healthy, too, $3.95, We also liked their spicy tuna roll, $5.25 and a simply marvelous stuffed salmon with crab meat, encircled by a ring of subtle, Japanese mustard, a must have for $4.95. Incidentally, on Sundays, Happy Hour doesn't start until 9 pm. They also serve complete dinners such as the namesake octopus, for $9.95, any time. We've driven by this place dozens of times and now wonder, what took us so long?

Octopus, 227 E. Palm Avenue, Burbank 91502 (818)556-6622.

Reviewed by Ingrid Wilmot.



FALLING by Deanna Jent

This gripping, heart wrenching West Coast premiere about a conflicted family, trying to cope with a severely autistic eighteen year old son, is written by a playwright who has personally experienced the agony of terror and love experienced by the Martin family in this story. It is portrayed by an outstanding cast and sensitively directed by Elina de Santos. This play will leave you grateful for your healthy children and minimize all the little annoyances they may cause you.

Tami (Anna Khaja), the mother, has become an expert in calming her son Josh (Matt Little), who is given to violent outbursts. She feels guilty about neglecting her loving husband, Bill (Matthew Elkins) and has little sympathy for her shrill, fourteen year old daughter, Lisa (Tara Windley), whose hatred of her brother is visible in her every action and audible in her open resentment. When Bill's mom, Grammy Sue (Karen Landry) comes to visit, her bible-spouting and obvious disgust with her grandson's peculiarities only adds to the family's pain. A welcome solution would be to board him out but Tami's maternal instincts are too strong, not to mention that no one is willing to work with a boy who is a strapping six-footer, strong as an ox and thoroughly unpredictable. Little performance is calibrated to the point of perfection. His blank expression, jerky movements, often dangerous aggression interspersed with a few moments of joy, as he plays with his unusual toys, are a revelation. Equally remarkable is Khaja, whose suffering is relieved only momentarily by a few glasses of wine and a stiff drink. Our hearts go out to Elkins, desperately trying to hold his marriage together. And, who can blame the brutally honest Windley for expressing what is unspoken and Landry's shock at Josh's outlandish behavior? The Martin family is in it for the duration, hope having been abandoned long ago. A tough watch, nevertheless a marvelous, unforgettable piece of theatre. May a cure soon be found for this life-destroying disease.

Rogue Machine at Theater Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd., west of La Brea, Los Angeles 90019. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm $30. 90 minutes, no intermission. (855) 585-5185 or The Rogue Machine Theater ends 12/1

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: On the same block as the theatre is BROWNSTONE BISTRO, so once you park, you stay, the ideal situation for theatre goers. The place is rather cavernous but not unattractive. A large room with a long bar left of entrance, little light fixtures along the opposite brick wall and tables set with black cloths. Appetizers run from $8 to $12, a glass of wine from $6. The most interesting item among the entrees, oxtails in red wine sauce is delicious, if you don't mind all those bones but that's the characteristic of this body part, so you know what you're getting into. Comes with assorted veggies including sautéed spinach and very good garlic mashers, $18. I've tasted shrimp and pasta all over town and I would rate their Calypso shrimp over linguine as one of the very best, in a vodka-lobster sauce, seasoned with Creole spices, a humungous portion, also $18. They have several chicken preparations, same price and salmon in a potato-herb crust with chipotle sauce for $20. A veggie burger is available for $9. Service takes its good old time but, thankfully, you only have a few steps to the show. Still, try to allow extra time, the food here is too good to gulp.

Brownstone Bistro, 5047 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles 9019. Full bar. Street parking. Dinner 4 - 11 pm. Saturday & Sunday brunch. Closed Monday. (323) 965-9400.

UPDATE ON THE LONG-AWAITED PRIX-FIXE DINNER FOR SOUTH COAST PLAZA THEATRE PATRONS:

The hidden treasure of South Coast Plaza is THE SILVER TRUMPET, the dining room of the Wyndham Hotel. Not only is it located right behind Segerstrom Hall and within walking distance of South Coast Repertory Theatre but, and listen to this, you get complimentary parking and a Prix-Fixe, three-course, pre-theatre dinner for $35. Are you jumping up and down? The room is gorgeous, with elegantly set, well-spaced tables. If you're in the mood, take advantage of the wine pairings, starting with a glass of white and ending with champagne, three glasses for $25. Dinner choices are (an * denotes the ones we tasted) soup du jour, on this night a light, lovely tomato-basil*, a so-so Caesar salad* or mixed greens with goat cheese and berries. Three different entrees are offered, grilled chicken breast with avocado, roasted guajillo sauce and blonde succotash; pesto shrimp pomodoro, pasta with at least a half dozen plump beauties, sauced with heirloom tomatoes, garlic, Reggiano parmesan and a touch of genius by Chef Carlos Garcia*. Third choice is salmon, very fresh tasting, bedded on baby bok choy, topped with sautéed onions plus excellently herb-seasoned, brown rice*. For dessert, there's house made pineapple upside down or New York style cheesecake. Service is attentive but the kitchen seems to be in s-l-o-w gear. To avoid missed curtain jitters, allow plenty of time to enjoy this new experience. Incidentally, on a rainy night, if their shuttle is not at the airport picking up hotel guests, you might inquire about a ride to the show.

The Silver Trumpet, Wyndham Hotel, 3350 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa , 92626. Hint: take Bristol off the 405, right on Anton Boulevard, left on Avenue of the Arts. Full bar. Free validated parking in their garage across from the hotel entrance. (714) 442-8593.



IT'S THE BIZ by Michael Grossman

A comedian once asked "Do you know how to make a lawyer? You start with a pile of s... but don't get one that's too big, or you'll get a Hollywood agent." This has become the most maligned profession, displacing funeral directors and used car salesmen. But our agent, Wally Bryant (Kelly Gullett) isn't really a bad guy. He does his best for his clients, even though he recklessly plays the stock market via his broker Sid (Charles Anteby) and gets a little reckless with the money entrusted to him. The real hero of the story is Marty (the wonderful Paul Mischeshin), the new office manager, a conscientious, young fellow whose dream is to become a writer. From his very first day at the office (functional set by Allison Schenker), he gets a taste of the shenanigans of show biz, the jealousies, frustrations and deal making but also the joy of discovering new talent, specifically that of a young, aspiring actress, Mia (Rachel Amanda Bryant). She comes looking for representation and Marty, too much of a greenhorn to know the pitfalls of professional/personal relationships, promptly falls for her. Playwright Grossman trots out a cast of characters representing every Hollywood stereotype, often with amusing results. There's veteran screenwriter, Ted (Jeff Sable), suffering writers' block; a coke-sniffing (this is Hollywood in the early eighties), disgruntled, former associate Deedee, (Dyan Kane); a narcissistic, temperamental matinee idol, Frank (Hunter Smit); a no-talent ingénue, Jill (Bryant in a dual role); an idealistic documentary film maker Linda, (Julie Shelton), who is desperately looking for a distributor; Robin, (Michael Sotkin), a wanna-be rock star and the bewigged Brice Harris in several parts. The acting is a mite uneven and the play runs about two and a half hours and could use some trimming but it's never boring. A world premiere directed by Paul Morgan Fredrix. If you're in the industry, you may recognize some friends or enemies and if you're not, we in this town, know enough about the vagaries of show biz to find this Tinseltown saga fascinating.

The Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade near Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica 90401. $30. Friday and Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 7 pm. Parking in nearby structures on 2nd or 4th Street. (323)960-4443 or Plays 411 ends 11/24

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A mere five minute walk to the Promenade Playhouse is THE MISFIT and, believe me, it's not what the name implies. Dark and sexy as a night club, two stories throbbing with the beat of loud music, mixed with the din of a happy dining crowd reverberating off the tile floor, makes conversation almost impossible. But, that's my only gripe. We sat outside on the sidewalk terrace beneath cozy heaters and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and devoted service. Happy Hour prices are in effect before show time, with a glass of wine going for $5 (normally $7). The menu is casual/contemporary. Soups are chicken-red lentil or roasted garlic and potatoes for $7. Salads: kale and quinoa $11, grilled avocado $9. Savannah-style nik niks (sliders) of lobster or prime rib $13 - $16. We zeroed in on the p.e.i. (Prince Edward Island) mussels in a heavenly, tomato-scented broth spiked with spicy chorizo, which gave the dish an exciting, Basque-like flavor $15, and you'll spoon up every drop, guaranteed. Their Jadori chicken is not to be missed, either. Oven roasted with sautéed, fresh greens in a lemon-white wine sauce with garlic cloves and Fresno chilies for a touch of heat, is a loud lip smacker, $22. The next table ordered a heap of Misfit's famous shoestrings, which looked so good it took a lot of willpower not to reach over and grab some, $6. Next time, maybe with one of their burgers, green chili and melted cheddar $14, rare ahi $15.

The Misfit, 225 Santa Monica Blvd., between 2nd Street and The Promenade, Santa Monica 90401. Full bar. Park in nearby structure which will cost you around $5 - $6 for dinner and show time. (310)656-9800.

Reviewed by Ingrid Wilmot



WE GOT LUCKY by Allen C. Gardner

This thoughtful play about male bonding, gives us an intimate look into the personae and lifestyles of two very different, young men. Brad (Allen C. Gardner) is a filmmaker and writer, a sensitive soul who is, although he doesn't realize it, basically a one woman guy. Into his life and bachelor pad, pops party boy Aaron (Matthew Gilliam) with his girl of the moment, Jami (Melanie Reif). Flaky Aaron sticks to Brad like a tick on a dog, promptly moves in and stays on. He is a Good Time Charlie, entertains everybody wherever he happens to be, mostly to where he can get wasted and laid. Any available female will do. Brad goes along on this joy ride for a while but eventually realizes that the romantic in him is not on Aaron's turbulent wavelength. The two other members of this wild bunch are Scott (they hyper Drew Paslay) and the laid-back Adam (co-producer Gabe Arrendondo) who almost whispers his few lines of dialogue. Kelly Whitaker makes her successful stage debut as Shannon, Aaron's well spoken, sympathetic girl friend. Kristin Ford is Jennifer, Brad and Aaron's love interest, an attractive blonde with a nice smile but a too nasal, little girl voice.

What makes the story interesting is that it contains the sort of soul baring not usually associated with the male gender. Men tend to brag a lot but it's the women who generally confess all and vent their innermost feelings. The two leads turn out to be excellent actors who know how to handle the emotional situations that develop in the course of their almost decade-long friendship, covered in this world premiere. It is told in over a dozen, intermission-less scenes but excising three or four of the repetitive ones would not be a detriment to its success. Playwright/Director Gardner, please note.

The Working Stage Theater, 1516 N. Gardner Street, West Hollywood 90046. Friday - Sunday 8 pm. $18 online, $20 cash at the door. (800) 838-3006 or Brown Paper Tickets Tight street parking ends 11/3

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: The ideal spot for pre-curtain sustenance is the VINOTEQUE ON MELROSE, just minutes from the theatre - if you activate your GPS. The look is smart and contemporary with a beautiful, romantically illuminated patio out back. Since this is a wine bar, you won't have any trouble finding the right libation. Everything is available by the glass if the bottle is already open. If not, and you buy two glasses, they'll open it for you. Their tapas are listed by category: from the oven, from the sea, from the farm, etc. Not inexpensive but three tapas for a party of two will please your wallet and your tummy. May I suggest the terrific Tiger prawns in a delightful red bell pepper sauce with toothpick size asparagus spears for $13. The rich chicken-spinach-artichoke hearts gratin, baked beneath a meld of cheese, is also excellent with "fried dough" which doesn't sound too appetizing but is actually like a crispy bread crust and makes a fine dipper-upper, $12. Just about the best French fries in the County are right here, parmesan fries for $6. This Vinoteque is a winner in all departments, including service.

Vinoteque on Melrose, 7469 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood 90046. Tight street parking. Valet $6. (310)860-6060.

Reviewed by Ingrid Wilmot



FAST COMPANY by Carla Ching

The titular fast company is a Chinese family but not the storybook Asian clan that reveres its elders and encourages the children to pursue higher learning. Uh, uh. This is a family that preys together and frequently on each other. Their specialty is making big bucks by swindling somebody who is not as clever as they think they are.

As the play opens, Blue (the fast-talking Jackie Chung) and her brother H )Nelson Lee) are cooking up a multi-million dollar con game, involving a rare, first edition comic book. Another sibling, Francis (Lawrence Kao) is drafted for consultation who, in turn, resorts to seeking advice from the queen of crooks, their mother Mable (Emily Kuroda). This woman's parenting skills make Mommy Dearest look like Mother Teresa. Example: she left each of her then grade school children, penniless at the other end of New York City to find their way back home, as a test of their street smarts. The only Golden Rule she taught them is not to "break code", grifter lingo for " don't betray one another". Good luck with that. Kuroda takes this part and waltzes with it. Her Dragon Lady bravado is a comedic gem. Chung's monochromatic interpretation of the daughter, who is in constant competition with her brothers for the title of the "baddest", is too brittle to evoke any sympathy from the audience. The smirking Lee displays some versatility but the only halfway likeable character among this quartet is Kao's Francis; at least he does some amusing card tricks.

To be perfectly honest, for me, the most remarkable thing about Fast Company is the production. Not just up to SCR's high standards, but exceeding them. Directed with lightning speed by Bart DeLorenzo, eye candy is provided by Keith Mitchell's scenic design, coupled with exceedingly clever projections by Jason H. Thompson. As for playwright Ching's work, it brings to mind what they used to say about a Chinese dinner: You're hungry again after an hour.....for something more substantial, perhaps?

South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tuesday - Friday 7:45 pm, Saturday & Sunday 2pm and 7:45 pm (no evening performance 10/29) $22 to $72. (714) 708-5555 or The South Coast Repertory Parking available on Park Center Drive, off Anton Boulevard. Ends 10/27

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: The nearby Wyndham Hotel's lovely restaurant, THE SILVER TRUMPET is in the process of finalizing their three-course, pre-theatre, prix fixe menu. It will be unveiled in a few days and you'll be the first to know the details. Stay tuned!

The Silver Trumpet 3350 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa, 714-442-8593

Reviewed by Ingrid Wilmot



THE BURNT PART BOYS book by Mariana Elder, music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tyson

This delightful musical features a mixture of country western/mountain roots melodies and is set in West Virginia in 1962, where, ten years ago, a mining disaster took the lives of several men whose children set out on a trek to visit the almost sacred grounds, The Burnt Part, now deserted and permanently closed.

Against a backdrop of hazy hills, which capture the rough terrain, this is the story of determined young people whose intentions vary but whose determination is unflagging. It is suitable for all ages and has a lot to say about how teenagers can love and respect their forbears without necessarily following in their footsteps, simply told and emotionally fulfilling. The cast is vocally and histrionically first rate. There's the ballsy Jake (Aaron Scheff), his troubled kid brother Pete (Daniel David Stewart), Jake's pal Chet (Joe Donohoe), their sad-faced friend Dusty (Adam Dingeman) and Frances (Lauren Patten), a kick-ass mountain gal at home in the wilderness. The quartet of miners are Philip Dean Lightstone, Richard Hallstern and Rich Brunner, whose strong voices blend and harmonize, with Matt Musgrove particularly outstanding in several fantasy roles. The set, by Will Pellegrini, consists primarily of movable, wooden planks, so ingeniously arranged and re-arranged to lend credence to the illusion of an arduous journey, impeccably directed by Richard Israel. Chris Miller's score has much of the authentic Appalachian sound, which will please old friends of traditional music and, perhaps make new fans unfamiliar with this genre. It is performed by and unseen but definitely not unheard, band. In fact, if there is one nit to pick, it's that the music is very loud and robs many of the songs of their mellow folksiness and the male singers are heavily miked, even though we're in an intimate venue. These boys can all carry a hearty tune on their own, thank you very much.

Third Street Theatre, 8115 3rd Street near Crescent Heights, Los Angeles 90048. Friday and. Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $29 - $34, children under 16 sixteen with adult, $15. (promo code KIDS) Ninety minutes, no intermission. Tight street parking (meters in effect until 8 pm) See Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion below, for solution. (323)655-9232 or The Third Street Theatre ends10/20

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A couple of blocks west of Third Street Theatre is THE LITTLE NEXT DOOR, a Gallic style eatery that resembles a Parisian brasserie. They have a really nice, covered patio, very inviting for early autumn al fresco dining pleasures. Service is wonderfully friendly, most of the entrees are in the low twenties and it's within easy walking distance of the theatre. Happy Hour lasts until 7 pm, half price for a glass of wine (normally from $10). I couldn't find a single Californian by the glass but the interior wall space displays a fine selection (from $30), which you can buy and sip with your dinner. Food-wise, I can recommend their Moroccan-inspired lamb shank, roasted to tender perfection, with a mound of cous-cous and two prunes for garnish. In a separate gravy boat is a brothy sauce with good seasonings and slivers of lemon peel to pour over the grain, $23. Their version of boeuf Bourguignon is a Franco-Italian co-production, served over fettuccine, studded with bacon cubes, pearl onions and mushrooms. Tasty but a mite on the dry side, the pasta having gobbled up most of the red wine infused juices. I volunteered some of my own gravy, which provided just the right moisture, $21. One of the world's best desserts, opera cake, is a must-have, $7. Its dense, nutty, chocolate-y layers are bites of pure bliss. Save room! Note: The management kindly agreed to let theatre/dinner patrons use the valet service $7, so you can pick up your car after the show. They close at 11, the play ends around 9:30 pm.

The Little Next Door, 8142 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles 90048. Beer and wine. Valet parking $7 (323)951-1010.



THE BELLS OF WEST 87TH by Elin Hampton

Dysfunctional families are many but a dysfunctional family that makes us LOL is to be treasured, and here it is. Molly Fein (Cameron Meyer) is pushing forty, still single, a bit on the dowdy side and living, albeit reluctantly, with her mother Ida (Carol Locatell), a sharp tongued nag, in her parents' apartment house which she manages for a living. Molly's folks split four years ago and her dad, Eli (Robert Towers) still lodges next door. The well designed set by Jeff McLaughlin, shows two fully furnished living quarters separated by a wall. Molly's sister, the attractive Maxine (Dagney Kerr), resides on Staten Island with a husband and two children, is the favored child and is constantly held up as the example for Molly to emulate. To escape her unpleasant existence, Molly enrolls in a poetry class where she meets Chris (James Marsters) who becomes her boyfriend. That's t he set up.

What makes this play so amusing, are the wonderfully eccentric characters created by the playwright and the expert interpretations supplied by this cast. Towers (old Eli), although beset by prostate troubles and almost deaf, is a frustrated magician, excuse me, illusionist, as he likes to refer to himself, ready to embark on a show business career at age eighty, Locatell is the embodiment of the yenta who has inspired every Jewish mother joke ever told. Marsters, the new man in Molly's life is a simple dude, a far cry from the doctor/lawyer/business tycoon she envisioned for her daughter but he, without being a smarmy ass-kisser, has an endearing way with people, saying just the right things to win them over. Kerr, a smartly attired model-type (who should be wearing a T-shirt that says "Mom always liked ME best", has some major problems in hr own life and when the long-suffering Meyers intermittently shares her poetic thoughts with the audience, her eyes sparkle and her features take on a becoming glow. All performances are exceptional, as directed with just the right, light touch by Richard Pierce. Lighting by Michael Gend and the costumes by Susanne Klein, deserve mention. As to where those bells come in, you'll find out when you attend the show and you certainly should!

Greenway Curt Theatre, 544 N. Fairfax Avenue nr. Clinton, Los Angeles 9036. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 6 pm, $34 ($50 on September 29 with post performance Q&A with the cast). Free parking in the adjoining lot just north of the theatre. (323)655-7679 or The Greenway Curt Theater ends 10/27

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Approximately five minutes north of the theatre, awaits THE FAT DOG, a brewpub, friendly and lively as a puppy, whose kitchen is strictly thoroughbred. But more about that later. The interior is in the popular tavern style, with TVs above the bar, booths along the wall and a large communal table for socializing. Lots of doggie photos and pictures comprise the décor. They have a gorgeous, sleek patio out front where man's best friend is most welcome, as well. The staff is obliging, uniformly pleasant and the food tail-wagging good. There are small plates and complete dinners served. We arrived during Happy Hour, when a glass of house wine goes for only $4. We shared and relished their unusual potato skins with Hollandaise, crab, asparagus and scallions $5 (normally $12), tasty Swedish meatballs in an herb-scented gravy plus cranberry sauce $5 (usually $12) and, from the regular menu, a fabulous lobster roll on toasted bun with home-made, paper-thin potato chips, $16. A little dish of toasted almonds is complimentary. You can order a sausage board for $14, half a roast chicken $18, beet salad $14, burgers $12 and much more and surely savor every bite.

The Fat Dog, 901 N. Fairfax Avenue, Hollywood 90046. Cocktails, craft beer and wine. Street parking (meters in effect until 8 pm) (323) 951-0030.



BREATH AND IMAGINATION by Daniel Beaty

Ask just about any classical music lover whether the name of singer Roland Hayes sounds familiar and you'll probably be met by a blank stare, although Hayes did some recordings on 78s for RCA Victor back in the day, of French Folk Songs by Thomas, Sacred and Secular Airs by J.S. Bach, some Shakespearean sonnets, etc. This man, an African-American classical singer, performed successfully before the crowned heads of England and Spain and at Carnegie Hall, breaking the color barrier long before Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson made their mark on the music scene. This is his story.

Roland Hayes, performed by Elijah Rock, grew up dirt poor on a plantation in Georgia, tended by his mother, Angel Mo' (Karina Kendrick), a strong, dictatorial and intensely pious woman who, not surprisingly, wanted her only son to become a preacher. The beginning of this play shows little promise but, as so few things in life, gets better and better and better. It soon involves the audience emotionally as we witness Hayes' struggle on his way to the top. Rock, a slender, attractive man, is not only enormously talented as an actor and nimble hoofer but, most importantly, possesses a glorious voice, powerful enough to reach the last balcony of the Metropolitan Opera. It reverberates through the Colony's space with goose bump-inducing, bravissimo-inspiring, sounds.

The feisty Kendrick, as the mother, is a beautiful singer as well and her touching portrayal of a former slave who has not forgotten her roots, is letter-perfect. As an additional bonus, the stage is shared by Kevin Ashworth, billed as The Accompanist. Not only is he a fine pianist but he adds a lot to the story as a gifted actor in multiple parts. Thus, with only three people, minimal props and costumes (by Dianne K. Graebner) backed by a tasteful set (by Shaun Motley), Director Saundra McClain brilliantly guides us through the multi-faceted life of a man who, against all odds, attained the kind of fame not even he ever dreamed of. A West Coast premiere, suitable for all ages and not to be missed. (Ninety minutes, no intermission).

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street at Cypress, Burbank 91502. Thursday & Friday 8 pm, Saturday 3 and 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $25 - $45 (senior, student and group rates available). (818)558-7000 or The Colony Theatre Free parking in adjoining Burbank Town Center Mall Garage. Ends 10/13

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Driving towards the Colony, something unusual occurred -in front of MARKET CITY CAFFE a parking spot suddenly became vacant. Considering this an omen, we decided to eat there. It's been at least five years since my last visit and not much has changed. However, there was a nice table on the patio, just right for an Indian Summer evening of dining and wining. I have fond memories of their antipasto bar, which is still only $9.50 and which has more varieties than one can possibly sample. But it's fun to try. There's an excellent lentil salad, spinach salad, Israeli cous-cous, little Edwards Island mussels, roasted garlic cloves and the now trendy kale salad. Full marks to all of the above. Others I found quite timidly seasoned: the roasted eggplant, fennel and yellow bell peppers, white carrots, the Russet potato salad, the autumn corn and the beets with apples. For that added crunch, I would have much preferred jicama or even celery, beets with apples just doesn't do it for me. But it's all a matter of taste, you may love it. The breadsticks are super and there's pizza from $9.30. salads from $9.50, trout $13.50, shrimp $21.25 and their fabulous roasted chicken anointed with no less than ten different herbs, for $14.25, Don't forget the pasta selections, from $9. You'll enjoy linguine with sautÄed calamari in pomodoro (tomato) sauce, a deep bowl for $14.40. Our waiter was a friendly fellow, if a bit distracted. He forgot our wine order which finally appeared half-way through the meal. The wine list is quite extensive, glasses start at $6. The drive to the Colony takes less than minutes, including parking time.

Market City Caffe, 164 E. Palm Avenue, Burbank 91502. Full bar. Tight street parking. (818)840-7036


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THE NEW SITUATION by Carlo Allen

Upon suffering a great loss, some people console themselves with booze or drugs, some become suicidal, and others turn to therapy and find a way to heal. Carlo Allen, it seems, decided to write this play as his own catharsis. His quartet of characters is beset by serious problems. One is jobless, one mourns a dead lover, another is very lonely and the fourth has a case of agoraphobia. The premise is promising. A brother and sister who live in Los Angeles' Wilshire District, are victims of the sluggish economy and decide to rent out one of the rooms to survive financially. The first two applicants both make the grade and they all try to adjust to their new situations. Unfortunately, the physical comedy is broad, very broad, strains for laughs and some of the dialogue sounds so outdated, if it were an oufit, even Goodwill couldn't sell it.

The game cast includes Joshua M. Bott as Francisco, the unemployed teacher; his sister Antonia, whose favorite and only pastime is dancing, which the graceful Susan M. Flynn does quite well. She finds a willing partner in one of the new tenants, Constantine, nicknamed Connie, a gay man (Jordan Preston), who is also an avid amateur chef. The playwright and director himself, Carlo Allen, is Rudy, a compulsive Internet dater searching, alas unsuccessfully, for someone to love. This unusual mÄnage a quatre has the potential for some meaningful interaction but fails to deliver before the predictable, feel good, ending. The venue for this world premiere is one of the loveliest, little theatres in SoCal, in the midst of pedestrian-friendly Third Street Promenade and the set, designed by Elizabeth Allen, is utterly charming.

The Promenade Playhouse, 1404 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica 90401. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 9/15 at 5 pm. $25. (800)838-3006 or The New Situation Brown Paper Tickets Park in one of the nearby public structures for approximately $5, allowing for dinner and show. Ends 9/28

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Just cross the street (Santa Monica Boulevard), two minutes from the theatre and you're at TRASTEVERE, an impressive Italian restaurant with a twin in the Hollywood/Highland Complex, named for the lively Trastevere District in Rome. This place is huge and every room is decorated with garlands of little lights and filled with an upbeat crowd. But do as the Romans do, go al fresco and grab a table along the sidewalk, this being the ideal time of year for an outdoor repast. The people-watching is as good as the food and, chances are, musical entertainment will be provided by street artists along the busy Promenade. You'll find all your Italian standards on the menu. Prices are no bargains but not excessive, from pollo all'limone to branzino, around $22 to $28. Portions are hearty, service first class and there's bread and a complimentary Kalamata olive dip. A good buy among the pasta dishes is spaghetti pescatore, a generous amount of seafood, perfectly cooked and sauced, in a heap of spaghetti for $19. Among the appetizers, I spotted grilled calamari for $14 and asked whether they have a dinner-size portion. The answer was negative but just as well. The sliced calamari steak rich and plentiful, lightly grilled so texture and flavor resemble the almost extinct and certainly unaffordable, abalone. It's served over chopped, Cobb salad-style celery, red onions, tomatoes, olives and garbanzo beans in a perfect vinaigrette, balanced like fine wine. Speaking of wine, there was some confusion since we were not served the wine we ordered but the mistake was rectified pronto. The large list is a good mix of domestic and imported bottles, available by the glass from $7.95. Desserts will set you back a hefty $9 but that little jar of white chocolate panna cotta with blueberries is probably the best investment you've made all week, with immediate gustatory returns.

Trastevere (pron. Trustehvayreh)1360 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica 90401. Full bar. Park in nearby structures. (310)319-1985.



SHORT STAY AT CARRANOR by William Blinn

Multi-award winning writer William Blinn (Roots, Brian's Song), gives us a beautiful and touching tale of a mature romance against many odds, which grabs out hearts with both joy and sadness. Irene (Lee Meriwether) who, as a young girl, gave us her innocent involvement soldier, the five years older Chet (Don Moss), deferring to her parents' wishes, not unusual in the old days....Now, as a seventy-year old widow, she has rekindled the relationship although he is still )unhappily) married, much to the consternation of her judgmental, moralizing daughter Shelby. On my night, the part was played by the fine understudy, Leona Britton. Age has taken its toll on Chet but he is determined to make up for the lost years of separation, by moving into Irene's lakeside Carranor Cottage (splendid set design by Jeff G. Rack), for whatever time is left for these once youthful sweethearts.

Lee Meriwether, a former Miss America, long associated with Theatre West, earns ur admiration as a woman who assumes her latest role in life with courage and a sense of entitlement that borders on selfishness but which is inspired by love, in whose name all is fair, right? Britton's firebrand of a daughter is a good match, her icy glances and defiant stance say as much as her combative remarks and the unsparing exchange between the two women is priceless. Moss makes a strong statement as a man determined to attempt a final grab at happiness and he can be tender as well as cruel in his dealings with the two women in his life. An excellent performance. Greg Lewis has an endearing bit as Mister Dibble, a neighbor and fishing enthusiast. George Tovar plays Alan, Shelby's husband, who has his hands full trying to tame his shrew of a wife. Mary Burke makes a short but effective appearance as Diane, Chet's neglected wife and Nick McDow is briefly seen as Chet's grandson. The letter-perfect direction is by the renowned John Gallogly, in whose hands the story flows like a bubbling stream, from its sprightly spring to the gentle, serene ending. A Los Angeles premiere well worth seeing.

Theatre West, 333 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Los Angeles 90068 (across from Universal City). Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $30, premium seating in the First four rows $34, seniors $25, students $5. Free parking in lot across the street. (323)851-7977 or Theatre West ends 9/29

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A not so funny thing happened on the way to the theatre. Less than five minutes away is OMBRA, a great looking Italian restaurant, a little over two years old. Since I never identify myself beforehand, it was only after we paid the bill that I mentioned the unusually limited menu. Turns out, they're on their last week! #%$! Now, if you get there before September 7th, they do a marvelous, if expensive marinated octopus appetizer for $14. A red pepper relish with home made looking bread an amuse bouche of two cone-shaped potato croquettes were complimentary. The menu consists of only risotto, pasta or Italian sausage with lentils, from $14 - $19. No fish, fowl or meat entrees in sight. We ordered something called spaghetti o'povernele which, I think, translates as poor man's spaghetti, their version of all'aglio e olio, pasta with garlic, olive oil, egg, a healthy dose of black pepper and Pecorino cheese. Very al dente but also very tasty, $15. A tiny selection of wine by the glass for $11, plus pricey bottles. For dessert, they still have panna cotta, a firm textured pudding of baked whipped cream, yummy, $7. (See below for dining Plan B.

Ombra, 3737 Cahuenga Blvd, Studio City 91604 (818) 984-7337. Closed Sunday. Valet parking $4. Open until September 7th.

NOTE; If you theatre visit occurs after September 7th, may I suggest the previously reviewed CALIFORNIA CANTINA on the same block as and supporters of, Theatre West, at 3311 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Los Angeles 90068 (323) 876-1702



PAGEANT OF THE MASTERS & FESTIVAL OF ARTS

This year's Laguna Beach Pageant, themed THE BIG PICTURE, salutes the movies in unique and dazzling style. Actually, the creative forces behind this event face the same challenge as the producers of the Academy Awards Ceremony. Each year they are expected to come up with a more appealing show. Whereas the Oscars don't always attain that goal, the Pageant certainly does! In addition to the tableaux vivants, in other words, "living pictures", which are always stunning, they have incorporated amusing clips of movie classics and other innovations, all done with imagination and skill. Director Diane Challis Davy's touch of genius is evident and the show is full of surprises, none of which will be given away here. Suffice it to say, it has humor in abundance and is exceedingly clever, giving us an evening that will be hard to beat .....until next year.

Written by Dan Culing and narrated by Richard Doyle, we learn that famous film makers like Stanley Kubrick, have turned to art for inspiration, locales and authenticity of costume design. Always an audience pleaser is the demonstration of how the amazing staging is accomplished, this year the Western-themed "Dash for the Timber" by Frederick Remington, is the featured work. There are paintings by Vermeer, Gainsborough, a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell, sculptures by Michelangelo, the marble Fountain of Trevi by Nicola Salva, the pool at Hearst Castle by Carlo Freta and the awe-inspiring U.S. Marine Memorial by Felix de Weldon that'll have you cheering and much more.

Your ticket entitles you to stroll the grounds and admire the FESTIVAL OF ARTS exhibits of magnificent art, jewelry, woodwork, photography, pottery, sculptures etc. by local artists and artisans. You may be interested to know that during July and August the compound buzzes with activities, some continuing until August 29th and many of them free with your Pageant ticket. Art tours are scheduled daily, Monday - Friday from 1 to 3 pm. Thursdays bring Lecture Series from 12 noon to 1 pm. Also on Thursday is Jazz, Wine and Chocolate from 5:30 - 7:30 pm. (this one costs $15). Sundays from 2 - 4 pm is a Jazz concert and the Art of Cooking is scheduled from 1 - 2 pm. On August 24th, there's a Celebrity Benefit Concert, tickets from $40. General info (949)494-1145.

Pageant of the Masters & Festival of Arts, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach 92651.Nightly at 8:30 pm. $15 - $220. Festival of Arts daily from 10 am. Weekdays $7, weekends $10. The outdoor amphitheatre can get chilly so BYOB,B & C.(Blanket, binoculars and cushion) or you can rent on site. Nearby lots charge around $10 for parking but you can take the free shuttle from the well-marked lot on Laguna Canyon Road, $7 for parking. If you get there early and your moon and lucky stars are lined up just right, you may find a parking meter for three hours, to be fed until 7 pm.(one hour later than last year), Tickets and information (949)494-1145 or Sawdust Art & Craft Festival Pageant ends 6/25

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Within about a ten minute walk to the Festival Bowl, is ROMEO CUCINA. To paraphrase Sara Lee, "nobody doesn't like Italian food", or so it seems because everybody is here, either dining or waiting in line (Be sure to make reservations).The large, free-form room looks hospitable but if a sidewalk patio table is available, claim it. It's fun to watch the parade of tourists and locals and to breathe in the rarified air of Laguna Beach. Service here is outstanding and they won't forget you out there. Wine starts at $6.50 per glass, from an adequate list. Fresh, hot bread and a complimentary tapenade appear at once. Prices are fair, considering this is a resort town in high season. Pasta from $9.95 - $15.05, pizza $11.95 - $14.95. There are panini sandwiches $10.95, salads from $7.95 for a Caesar and antipasti $9.95 - $12.95. The most expensive entrees are steak or scampi for 24.95. For only $17.95, you get a delicious chicken breast with angel hair pasta, either Marsala or piccata. The latter with capers and caperberries, still moist and sauced with lemon and white wine. My vitello porcini was pure perfection, excellent veal heaped with mushrooms and tomatoes, served with freshly sautéed spinach and golden brown, roasted potatoes, a bargain for $21.95. I've had a similar preparation recently in L.A. for five dollars more, whose quality paled by comparison. There's another Romeo Cucina in Laguna Niguel, should you find yourself in that area. And where art thou? At 28241 Crown Valley Parkway.

Romeo Cucina, 249 Broadway, Laguna Beach 02651. Wine and beer. 2 1/2 hours free parking after 5 pm with validation, in nearby Bank lot. (949)497-6627.

PLEASE NOTE: Ingrid Wilmot will be on hiatus for the next few weeks. Her theatre reviews and where to dine nearby will return towards Labor Day. Have a wonderful summer!



DEAD MAN'S CELL PHONE by Sarah Rule

The digital age gets the once-over in this whimsical comedy. Regardless of what you may think about how technology affects our lives, we all use and many love, their cell phones. Whether the messages we receive are pleasant or not, important or trivial, we deal with them. In this story, a cell phone changes lives, particularly that of our protagonist, a lovely, young woman named Jean (the appealing Alina Phelan). Sitting alone in a quiet café she's distracted by the incessant ringing of a cell phone at an adjoining table, whose owner doesn't answer his calls. Turns out, the man, Gordon (Trent Dawson) has died, who knows when, looks like rigor mortis has, apparently, already set in. The first act is an absolute delight, as Jean takes possession of the phone and inserts herself into the dead man's life by first answering and then personally contacting the callers. Out of kindness, she delivers the loving messages and notes the man neglected to communicate in his lifetime. She consoles his pain-in-the-butt mother (Eileen T'Kaye), tells not so little white lies to his frigid wide, Hermia (Susan Diol) and embarks on a little romance with Gordon's brother Dwight, adroitly portrayed by Dawson as well which, I confess, I didn't realize until the curtain call. Another dual role, that of Gordon's floozy-like little piece on the side and a foreign business associate, is amusingly done by Heather Roberts.

The second act is disappointing. It fluctuates between the macabre and the ludicrous and it almost seems that this award-winning playwright couldn't sustain the lighthearted fun nor devise a fitting denouement for this highly original idea. In the hereafter, the "deceased:" Gordon, who was so simpatico as a corpse, emerges as a conceited, ruthless businessman in a very strange profession and the witty lines and clever encounters have mostly expired, as well. Nevertheless, the talent of the cast is indisputable, especially Dawson's and Phelan's. Director Robert Israel keeps the action on fast-forward and bridges the many scenes with jazzy musical interludes that snap, crackle and pop. Jeremy Pivnick is in charge of the expert lighting, the smart, functional set with a photographic backdrop is by D. Martyn Bookwalter and Kim De Sharo designed the apt costumes. A salute must go to Andrew Amani, the no-holds-barred fight coordinator.

International City Theatre, Center Theatre at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach 90802. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm. Sunday 2 pm. $38 - $45.Garage parking off Seaside Way $10. (562) 436-4610 or www.internationalcitytheatre.com ends 6/30

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: One of the first establishments on bustling Pine Avenue, just minutes away, and still going strong is ALEGRIA a Spanish bodega with a strikingly colorful tile floor, murals covering every inch of wall space and Latin tapes blasting at top volume. There's also patio seating along this lively thoroughfare. Tapas are a specialty and ideally portioned for pre-theatre patrons who prefer variety over volume, which you control by ordering several to share, priced between $7 and $11. If your IFC ticket falls between Monday and Friday, you can have feast for half the price, during Happy Hour from 3:30 - 6:30 pm. You'll get an extra friendly welcome at the door and, hopefully, an alert waiter. Our man floundered around for at least fifteen minutes but then alegria (happiness) set in, with the appearance of darling Kiara, who took over expertly and brought our two little cheese-stuffed jalapeľos with red bell pepper sauce daubs, $5. If you have allergies and want your sinuses cleared for the rest of the summer, these hot babies will do it. A must have is the ceviche in lime marinade, truly extraordinary, in a bowl ringed with paper-thin cucumber slices, $10. A dinner-size portion of ahi tuna with broiled tomatoes, topped with fresh watercress, is a very good deal for $12 but the promised wasabe dressing was mostly soy sauce. If you like your calamari crisp, order it that way but forget the one described as sauté, ed diabla in fire sauce. These are first breaded, fried and then doused with sauce, which makes them soggy and turns the breading into mush, $11. To their credit, they didn't charge us for the wine, from $7 per glass, to make up for our displeasure. There's a nightly Flamenco show beginning at 7:30 pm, something to think about for a future, non-theatre visit. Allow about 15 minutes to drive and park next to the theatre.

Alegria Cucina Latino, 115 N. Pine Avenue, Long Beach. Beer, wine, sangria etc. Valet parking $8 (562)436-3388.



SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - THE MUSICAL Music by Ben Toth, lyrics by Sam Forman, book by Jeff Arch

This cheery musical was a difficult birth for Pasadena Playhouse, with an incubation period that lasted over a year and when "delivered" appears to be a pretty faithful re-creation of the movie with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The original inspiration, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, An Affaire to Remember, has become a true classic. The show retains the old-fashioned values of a romantic comedy, with mostly forgettable music but some funny new lyrics and dialogue. The story, as you may remember, concerns a widower, Sam (Tim Martin Gleason), still in solitary mourning after the death of his wife one year earlier. His precocious son, Jonah (Joe West) and Sam's sister, Suzy (Lowe Taylor), decide "he should get our more" and look for a new wife and mother. The enterprising Jonah, unbeknownst to his dad, puts in a call to a local radio help-line, describing his father's loneliness and insomnia. As a result, Sam, dubbed "sleepless in Seattle" is deluged by letters from love-starved women and men, anxious to fill the void in his heart. If you recall how it ends, there's no need to tell you and if you don't, so much the better, to preserve what little suspense the story contains.

The outstanding performance is by young Joe West, definitely not clueless in Seattle, who sings and speaks with clarity, has an endearing personality and brightens every scene. He's so natural as a loving son cum matchmaker, you almost don't realize he's acting. If that boy is ever up for adoption, I want first dibs. As the leading lady, Casting Director Michael Donovan has found a young woman who resembles Meg Ryan. As Annie, (Chandra Lee Schwartz), a journalist, she is encouraged by her boss and BFF, Becky (Sabrina Sloan) to set out across the country to meet the yet unseen, man of her dreams. Schwartz' voice is pleasant and distinctive, while the other women sound mostly similar and loud, as is often the case with this genre, the so-called Broadway Musical. Schwartz, who does funny things with her hair, is believable as the reluctant fiancée of Walter, (Robert Mammana), a nerdy dude with more allergies than charm. Gleason has the lanky frame and sweet demeanor just right for the part, sings well and has us all rooting for him. His friend and occasional baby-sitter, Rob (Todd Buonopane), a Nathan Hale type, is fun to watch and a real audience pleaser. The show is colorfully staged (very inventive set by John Iacovelli). The spirited ensemble is required to do only a minimum of dancing (choreographed by Spencer Liff) but the kid and Buonopane have some good moves. Katharine Leonard as Victoria, Sam's insignificant date, with a bad laugh, does the best with the material she's given, as does Adam Silver as Greg, the brother in law. Not everything works. There is so much cross-singing that both words and melodies get lost and a ludicrous scene, which has the two leads side by side, belting out a ballad without acknowledging each other's presence. What's that about? The direction is by Pasadena Playhouse's own Artistic Director, Sheldon Epps, David O leads the live orchestra, lighting and projection design is by Brian L. Gale and costumes by Kate Bergh.

Pasadena Playhouse, 39 s. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena 91101. Tuesday - Friday 8 pm Saturday 4 & 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $64 - $107. Nearby parking lots from $5. (626) 356-7529 or www.thepasadenaplayhouse.org ends 6/23

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: One of Pasadena's cutest restaurants is ABRICOTT, which is also one of my personal favorites. A couple, one Korean, one Thai, have transformed an ordinary storefront into a quaint, little living room look-alike. The narrow space is filled with walls of bookshelves, art works (some for sale) and a nook with framed mirrors in assorted sizes. An entire wall made of books, separates the private Library Room, seating up to thirteen people, which can be rented in advance for a minimum charge of $15 per person for dinner, for not less than eight people. They also have a covered patio that looks out on busy Lake Avenue.

The food is called Asian Fusion but it's really world cuisine. For example, there are mussels ProvenŹale in a spoon-up good broth, $14; a spicy catfish with New Orleans influences $12; Pacific rock fish in black bean sauce, the sort that might be served at the end of an elaborate Chinese banquet, same price, trout amandine with Hollandaise sauce $14 and beef stew for $10.50. How do you like the prices, so far? Theatre patrons might enjoy a mix-and-share of different appetizers like pork tacos, three for $3.50, roti, an Indian pancake with curry sauce, same price or chicken wings with dips, eight for $7.50. On our last visit, we went ape over the sate beef, not on skewers but plenty of marinated, sliced meat with great flavor and tender, too, over a bed of spinach with sliced cucumber relish and a peanut sauce dip. Choice of white or brown rice, for $11.50. Can you believe this deal? Also wonderful is the yellow chicken curry, very generously portioned, with a little kick of spice plus potatoes and carrots floating therein. It also includes choice of rice but they gladly substitute a tossed, baby greens salad since nobody needs a double carbo load unless planning a 10K run the following day. Service is always most helpful ad pleasant. For dessert, I can resist almost anything except their mini hazelnut ganache, several layers of heaven encircled in dark chocolate. I salivate at the mere memory of this tiny confection, $6. To gild the lily, you can BYOB (no charge) and the drive to the Playhouse takes about ten minutes, tops. We always try to eat there when we're in Pasadena - maybe we'll run into each other.

Abricott, 238 S. Lake Avenue, between Del Mar and Cordova, Pasadena 91101. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Closed from 3 - 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. No alcohol. BYOB. Parking lot in rear, 2 hours free. (626) 796-1613.



THE TALES OF HOFFMANN by Jacques Offenbach

San Francisco Opera's new production, from Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, is chockfull of surprises. Cuts have been restored, spoken dialogue added, certain story elements altered and a word or two excised for p.c. reasons. Most astonishing of all, coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay, best known for her interpretation of Lucia di Lammermoor, La Fille du Regiment, Queen of the Night etc., does not sing Olympia but, instead, the role of Antonia, generally the realm of a lirico-spinto or dramatic soprano. Although three and a half hours long, you won't tire of these Tales, told with Gallic flair, conducted by Patrick Fourmillier, a Frenchman, directed by Laurent Pelly, ditto and featuring the above mentioned, French-born diva. The cast masters the French text with perfect diction and the rather contemporary-worded Super titles explain the goings-on. Even the sets (by Chantal Thomas), which frequently change in mid-scene and the costumes, are mostly drab and grey, reminiscent of the weather in Paris. By contrast, the score is scintillating and the characters high spirited.

New importance has been given to the Prologue and the Epilogue, which frame the production. There's a brief, opening appearance of the beautiful Muse (Angela Brower) who later transforms into the major Hosenrolle (trouser role) of Nicklauss, Hoffmann's faithful companion. We also meet Lindorf (Christian Van Horn), Hoffman's nemesis, who appears in various guises in every act, as Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dapertutto. His reedy, occasionally raspy baritone is well suited to his menacing personage and his tall, lean stature adds credence. While swilling too much wine in a tavern owned by Luther (Hadleigh Adams) Hoffmann entertains his friends with the Ballad of Kleinzach, a dwarf. Tenor Matthew Polenzoni, whose voice is familiar to listeners of the Met Opera broadcasts, is on stage from beginning to end and sustains his clarity of tone with dramatic inflections and assured high tessitura, throughout.

Act I belongs to Olympia, the mechanical doll beloved by our hapless hero. Without giving anything away, this is, by far, the cleverest rendition of the Doll Song (a kiss on both cheeks to Director Pelly), gorgeously sung, like the peel of silver bells, by Hye Jung Lee, who reaches stratospheric heights in more ways than one. Comic relief is supplied by Steven Cole as a wobbly-headed servant and in subsequent domestic roles he gets a chance to display a fine tenor voice. The next act, frequently performed last, is in the house of Crespel (James Creswell), father of the ill-fated Antonia (Dessay), Hoffmann's latest love. This young woman is gravely ill and shouldn't be singing but we all know, kids don't listen and she warbles anyway, encouraged by the by now familiar ogre in the disguise of the evil Dr. Miracle and by her dead mother, whose giant, ugly head is seen via projection (designed by Charles Carcopino) and whose voice is that of Margaret Mezzacappa. As expected, Antonia gives up the ghost before the pair can live happily ever after.

The last act, which includes the opera's best known melody, the Barcarolle, takes place in Venice. There should be romantic gondolas ferrying lovers to and fro. Instead, we get floating couches and revolving chairs. (I take back the two kisses I bestowed to Director Pelly). Thankfully, it is exquisitely rendered by Brower's rich mezzo and Irene Roberts, who sounds and looks like the ravishingly sensuous courtesan Giuletta and who meets an unexpected end here. Van Horn does his best singing in the dramatic area Scentille Diamant, his version of "Diamonds are a Girl's best Friend", tempting Giulietta with a multi-carat rock. There's a character in this act named Schlemiel (Adams, again), Giulietta's lover, which is probably a private joke between E.T.A. Hoffmann, the writer on whose stories the opera is based and composer Offenbach. Incidentally, neither lived to see the work staged. Schlemiel is a Yiddish term meaning "loser", which should actually refer to Hoffmann who, in the course of three acts and the Epilogue, in which he screws up his late-night date with a primadonna, Stella (an impressive Company debut by Jacqueline Piccolino) in what amounts to a walk-on part. This schlemiel can't get a girl to save his life. The Internet should have been invented a hundred and some years earlier and this guy might, perhaps, have scored.

The orchestra, under the baton of Fourmillier and the chorus, directed by Ian Robertson performe flawlessly. The latter is often grouped together like the leaves of an artichoke, picturesque and vocally effective. All in all, a rousing success or, as the French say, un succes fou!

San Francisco Opera, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove, San Francisco 94102. June 11, 14 and July 6 at 8 pm; June 20, 27 and July 3 at 7:30 pm, matinee at 2 pm June 30. $22 - $ 340. SRO tickets on sale at Box Office beginning at 10 am the day of performance. Cash only. Nearby garage parking from $15 or take BART to the Civic Center. (415)864-3330 or www.sfopera.com ends 7/6

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Walking close to the Opera House is CAFFE DELLE STELLE. Virtually unknown to tourists and to quite a few natives as well, so you'll be happy to read about it here. By far the best deal in the area for quality food and friendly service. The menu is basically Italian but not too Italian, if you know what I mean. This is not the home of the ubiquitous red sauce. Assorted bread is offered, along with a creamy, zesty, basil-scented, tomato flavored dip. The wine list is not huge but prices aren't either, glasses start at $7. Nightly specials hover between $14 and $20.50. On a previous visit, they had wild boar, which was super. It appears occasionally but not on this night. But just as good is the veal scaloppini with capers, a regular on the menu, perfectly textured and prepared, for $20.50, unbeatable! A dish that is "very S.F." is Petrale sole, a fish that is something of a rarity elsewhere. It could be that people have no idea of how to pronounce it (It rhymes with tamale) Of mild and delicate flavor, it is quickly cooked with lemon, butter and white wine, topped here with fresh, sautéed basil and an absolute delight $15.50. Both plates had mashers and a mélange of al dente veggies, Antipasti from $6.50 to $8.50, entrees like chicken breast roulade filled with Fontina cheese and a fish stew with garlic toast, none higher than $20.50, pasta $12 - $13.50 and desserts $6 - $7, won't break the piggy bank. For a real San Francisco finish, have the zabaglione alla nonna, grandma's recipe and frothy as a cloud, served in a Martini glass but spritzed with whipping cream shot from a gun, the only gripe of the night, $6. The Caffe looks charming, with a fireplace and white draped windows enveloping the corner room, some family photos and knickknacks completing the simple but distinctive style.

Caffe delle Stelle, 395 Hayes Street at Gough, San Francisco 94102. Beer and wine. Very tight street parking. (415) 252-1110.



HEART SONG by Stephen Sachs

If you love Flamenco, the dance, the music and the canciones, you'll really enjoy the first act of this world premiere. If you're not a Flamenco fan, you'll get more, much more, history than you ever wanted to know, albeit told and demonstrated with great passion and skill by Katarina (Maria Bermudez), a Spanish gypsy.

The play opens, as a well-padded, fiftyish, Jewish New Yorker, Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) is getting a massage from a Japanese-American masseuse, Tina (Tamlyn Tomita), whose diagnosis is that Rochelle is too uptight and her muscles are contracted beyond her own healing powers. She prescribes Flamenco as therapy. The kvetchy Rochelle is nervous about the impending Yahrzeit of her deceased mother which, according to Jewish custom, is the ceremony of unveiling the grave stone, one year after the death of a loved one. Out of shape Rochelle, although intimidated by the graceful and accomplished, mature women in the dance class, Alicia (Andrea Dantas), Bernadette (Sherrie Lewandowski), Sarah (Mindy Krasner )and Elisa (Elissa Kyriacou), soon bonds with Deloris (Juanita Jennings), an African-American cancer survivor with a fresh, new outlook on life, thanks to Flamenco. In the second act, we are in Rochelle's home, to which she has invited Deloris and Tina, for a dinner of tapas y vino. The women sip merrily, smoke a little grass and recount fond memories of their diverse childhoods but the evening soon turns ugly when Tina goes on a rant about her parents' wartime internment in what she calls a "concentration camp". This hits a nerve with Rochelle, who has personal reasons to resent that term being used when not in connection to the Holocaust.

Although the cast is uniformly talented, there's a definite overload of philosophical expounding on the subjects of faith, hope, religion and the miraculous powers of art, specifically Flamenco, triumphing over all sorts of adversity. The choreography is by Maria Bermudez, the costume finery is credited to Dana Rebecca Woods, the sound, often deafening, to Bruno Louchouarn, the serviceable set to Tom Buderwitz, the intricate lighting to Ken Booth, all under the able direction of Shirley Jo Finney. Note: Denise Blasor takes on the role of Katarina as of June 15th.

The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue near Normandie, Los Angeles 90029. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm.,Sunday 2 pm. (dark 7/4). $25 - $34. Parking in adjoining lot $5. (323) 663-1525 or www.fountaintheatre.com ends 7/14

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: A well established, local favorite is EL CHAVO, a Mexican eatery that always looks ready for a party. Stepping out of the bright sunlight, you almost need a Seeing Eye dog to wend your way but soon you'll see piľatas and flags dangling from the ceiling, colored lights along the wall and more décor than at a fiesta. Prices are reasonable, house wine is $6 for a generous glass. Besides all the popular combinaciones, entrees include chicken preparations from $12, lots of steak and beef dishes from $11, camarones are $18. Entrees include Spanish rice and beans as well as soup. On our night, the lentil had "home made" written all over it. The ropa vieja, which should be shredded bliss, is only $11 but even George Washington's wooden teeth couldn't masticate these tough strings. Good sauce, though. A better choice is their wonderfully tender and tasty beef tongue in Spanish (or mole) sauce, sautéed with fresh tomatoes, green peas, onions and bell peppers. If you like tongue, you'll savor it, if you don't, have another Margarita and give it a shot. If you didn't know what it was, you'd lick your chops. Both plates have chopped lettuce and tomato slices, bare naked. I usually enhance this form of salad with spoonfuls of the house salsa but theirs is a little too sugary and so hot, it'll make your ice water. Service is exceptionally rapid, great for us curtain-catchers and the drive to the Fountain takes less than ten minutes. I'm anxious to try some of their other dishes, perhaps the N.Y. steak for $14, next time and promise a full and truthful report.

El Chavo, 4441 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles 90029. Beer and wine. Free parking in adjoining lot. Open daily from 4 to 11 pm (323)664-0871



OPENING NIGHT by Norm Foster

For a good laugh, you can always count on Norm Foster, the man known as the Canadian Neil Simon and this may be the funniest play he has written. It takes place in a theatre in Quebec (set by Jeff G. Rack), on opening night, for which Ruth and John Tisdale (Gail Johnston and John Combs) have wrangled tickets on their 25th wedding anniversary. Ruth had to drag him away from his televised ball game and hopes to introduce him to "the finer things in life". They get to hang out in the VIP lounge, where the overwrought director Richard Hyde-Finch (Tom Delaney), anxiously awaits the last minute arrival of the cute, young leading lady, Libby (Iona Kulinska). Also present are an unemployed thespian Michael Craig (Richard Hoyt Miller), whose only recent paying gig is in a TV commercial. He knocks back a few too many drinks, served by a twenty-two year old aspiring actor, Tom (Eric Keitel), currently working backstage a waiter. The interaction between these characters gets us off to a rollicking start and becomes downright hysterical when the actual play gets under way. Called Whisper on the Wind, a real turkey of farm life, whose cast, shall we say, isn't breaking any legs, to put it kindly.

The performances are all impeccable and every line is a comic gem. Combs, as the rube who's never before set foot in a theatre is just perfect. Johnston, a wife with a case of empty nest syndrome, exudes a touching combination of innocence and warmth. The handsome Thompson is the epitome of a self-centered, arrogant director and his repartee with his ladyfriend, Cilla (Meranda Walden), is priceless. Walden, tall and sophisticated, is a woman with undiscovered erogenous zones and ticking biological clock and she wins over the audience sooner than her Mister Director. Kulinska, as the ingénue who is well endowed except for talent, is full of surprises. The portly Miller, a man with illusions and delusions of grandeur and a backpack of personal problem, is thoroughly convincing as a Shakespearean with noble bearing and a sonorous speaking voice. Keitel is terrific as the enthusiastic gofer, eager to get a foothold in the theatre. Last but certainly not least, David Hunt Stafford, Theatre 40's amiable Artistic Director and Producer, is a hoot as an old farmer on stage and quite the ladies' man off stage, both of which he plays with an Oxford accent. Veteran Bruce Gray brings it all together with his usual, accomplished directorial touches. The costume design by Michele Young are spot-on. This is one opening night everyone should attend. If you're not already a theatre buff, you will be at the play's end and you'll be snickering and quoting Foster's zingers for days.

Theatre 40 Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 S. Moreno Drive, off Little Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills 90212, on the campus of Beverly Hills High School. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $24 - $26. Free parking in building garage. (310)364-0535 or www.theatre40.org. ends 6/14

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Century City's newest star, HINOKI AND THE BIRD has created more buzz than the latest Hollywood blockbuster .Owner David Myers made big waves a few years ago, with his restaurant Fraiche, in Culver City but here he has created a tsunami. Popular and packed from day one, in spite of the up-up-upscale prices. But you won't have to take out a second mortgage, if you nibble on small plates, ideal for pre-theatre. A generous portion of fried chicken is $14, boneless, juicy and so crisp, it echoes in your mouth and comes with a lemon aioli dip. Another treat is the Asian version of beef tartare $15, with Parmesan and pickled jalapeľos, seasoned to deliver a sneaky kick, without making your eyes water. Mix it with the quail egg on top and spread it on the darkly toasted bread. You'll love it. Also excellent is the Singapore-style chili crab toast, three small slices heaped with a sweet-spicy crab mixture, $15. If there are two of you, prepare for combat over the extra one. Main courses are available, duck breast $24, black cod $26, a Wagyu strip loin $42. When my ship comes in.....

The place is exceedingly attractive, with a covered patio past the fashionably loud bar area, into which you make a grand entrance via a small staircase. It is located on the ground floor of the luxurious Century Tower, a high rise whose condos start at a million dollars. I understand one of the tenants owns eighteen automobiles. You get the idea. Service is impeccable. The waitresses all wear what looks like blue work shirts with no pants. One even got me a pillow - be warned that the benches along the wall banquettes are rock hard, unless you have your own, upholstered cushy tushy. Cocktails reign supreme, the wine list is deep and pricey but by the glass, quite shallow. We ordered the Gruener Veltliner, a crisp white from Austria's wine country $11 but it was out of stock. May I suggest management place a dot next to what is not available, to avoid disappointment. After a respectable period of mourning, we consoled ourselves with a Chardonnay from Santa Barbara, $13. One thing is certain, dining here is an experience no self-respecting foodie can afford to miss. The emphasis is on "afford".

Hinoki and the Bird, Century Tower, 10 Century Drive (this is the small street just south of the Century Plaza Hotel) Century City. Full bar. Closed Sunday and Monday. Valet parking $8.50. (310)552-1200



MY MOTHER'S KEEPER by Jane Press

Good thing Mother's Day has come and gone. It could be risky to bring mom to this fascinating show. Not the usual paean to motherhood, it can be quite jarring, as in the course of the lives of four generations of women, hearts and flowers often turn to thorns and pricks. The playwright, herself, reveals what it was like to grow up "on the fringe of show business", as she puts it, taking us back to her girlhood with her eccentric, non-carng mother, Della (nee Thelma), an actress (the wonderfully acerbic Susan Giosa) and her loving grandmother, Ida (the endearing L.B Zimmerman). She begins with a hilarious story about a talking bird when she was eleven and called Janie (played by Francesca Farina alternating with Campbell Walker). The tale is told in reminiscences and flashbacks via vignettes dating from 1964 to 1988, revealing all the characters with admirable honesty. Some memories are painful, others joyous but all are consistently interesting.

Zimmerman as Grandma Ida dotes on Janie, her shayna maydele (Yiddish for beautiful, everyone's amusement, inspiring Janie to emulate her splendidly. Ida hosts her mah jongg parties, usually juicy gossip sessions, where we meet Rozzie (Barbara Goodson alternating with Sharon Rosner), Bea (Mari Marks), Seal (Laura Julian) and Pauline (Barbara Turino), all excellent performers. The end of the first act reverts back to 1914 and we learn the cause of Ida's disfigured leg. Jane and Della's stormy (somewhere between a typhoon and a tornado) mother-daughter relationship is not sugar-coated, either, as we witness in the second act which also includes vintage photographic projections from 1914. This is an absorbing, entertaining and very well done piece of theatre which will please all audiences but if you're Jewish, you'll love it even more and may recognize some of your own relatives. Bouquets to Director Robin McKee, and most of all, to author (and scenic designer) Press, for spilling her guts, so to speak.

The Electric Lodge, 1418 Electric Avenue at Milwood Avenue, Venice 90291. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm. Free parking in adjoining lot. www.livearts@electriclodge.org or brownpapertickets.com. ends 6/16


Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Not more than ten minutes away, is Venice's BARNYARD, a local hangout since 1085, according to their sign. Spruced up in 2012 and now under the expert aegis of Chef Jesse Barber, formerly in the kitchen of Napa Valley's renowned French Laundry (but not at their $$$$$$). It has rustic charm, sitting on the pretty, covered patio, edged with a few cushioned seats and pillows, so comfy, you may never want to leave. You can order small pates, around $$10, of honey glazed ribs, a cassoulet or the freshly, home-made terrine, a slice of heaven with a dollop of grainy mustard and a raw baby carrot. Also recommended is the braised octopus, perfectly textured and sauced, with garbanzo beans and a bonus of some calamari, to start or to share. The most expensive entrée, $18 to be exact, the lamb chop done to your specs, is a delight, daubed with Argentinean chimichurri sauce, surrounded by fagioli and some still firm, fava beans. The menu promised an arugula salad also but it never appeared. Still, a good value. Desserts include a panna cotta, a bit too runny for my taste but spoon up good., $7. Next time we'll try the marquise du chocolat, something to look forward to. Wine prices by the glass start at $9, service is lovely but street parking a virtual impossibility.

Barnyard, 1715 Pacific Avenue, two blocks south of Winward, Venice 90291. Beer and wine. Valet parking $7 with validation. (310)581-1015.

AL FRESCO FUN: While other outdoor summer venues are still in snooze mode, THE FORD THEATRE across from the Hollywood Bowl, is already operating fullb last, with exciting, diverse musical programs for every taste. There's Broadway star Mandy Patinkin in Concert with the Pasadena Pops on June 9th; Flamenco, June 15; Grandeza Mexicana July 12 and 13; Afro-Brazilian Dance July 27; Bluegrass August 2, Jazz August 16, The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony August 25, New Orleans Music August 30, Aloha Fest September 29. See anything you like? If not, there's more. Luxurious picnics complete with choice of dessert $20 to $30 are available, as well as sandwiches and salad plates for $13. Must be ordered at least three days in advance (323)461-3673. Bring a wrap for evening performances.

The beautiful Ford Amphitheatre is located at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in Hollywood , 90068. Stacked parking $5 - $10 per car, free parking and shuttle service at Universal Metro station, Lankershim Boulevard and Universal Terrace Parkway. Prices vary. Box Office open noon to 5 pm Tuesday - Sunday (323) 461-3673 or www.fordtheatres.org


LOOKING by Norm Foster

This rom-com tackles the singles scene with humor and more than a grain of truth. These are not folks in their roaring twenties but four middle-aged people who are "looking" for a connection among the opposite sex. It'll give hope to those in the same boat and make all others glad they're not treading water in the dating pool, anymore. We have Andy (David Graham), a portly guy with low self-esteem and also broke, due to the failure of his storage business. He has set up a blind date with Val (Melissa Brandzell), an attractive operating room nurse with very high expectations. Uneasy about the prospect, Andy inveigles his tennis partner Matt (Bert Pigg), a successful DJ, to make it a double date. The women have had identical trepidations and Val persuades her friend Nina (Kimberly Pattison), a lady cop, to come along. Nina, who has been, shall we say, around the block romantically a few too many times, reluctantly agrees. She and Matt seem to hit it off immediately, while the relationship status of the other two is a bit more complicated.

The playwright, dubbed the Canadian Neil Simon, supplies laughs aplenty and, while we can easily guess where all this is going, the getting there is a lot of fun. The set (by Chris Beyries) stretches from one side of the stage to the other and involves a bit of neck craning, as Darrell Clark's lighting takes us from a workout room to the Private Dick Bar and to several different hallways. The costumes, designed by Christa Armendariz have the appropriate middle-class touch. Working with an enormously talented foursome, Director/Producer Stephanie Coltrin gives us a comedy with a light-hearted approach to a universal theme, that is, we all need someone to love, who loves us in return. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? Just wait and see....

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre Street at 8th, San Pedro. Friday & Saturday 5/17, 18, 24 & 25; Thursday 5/23 8 pm; Sunday 5/19 2 pm (in repertory with Embraceable Me). $27, seniors $24, students $20. Free parking in rear, entrance through the alley. (310)512-6030 or www.littlefishtheatre.org ends 5/25

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Please see review of Embraceable Me for information on the close- by NIKO's in San Pedro.



ANNAPURNA by Sharr White
Set in a trailer so trashy, it makes everyone else's place look ready for a photo shoot by Architectural Digest. We see a scruffy, bearded man, Ulysses (Nick Offerman), wearing only an apron, frying sausage. He is gravely ill, carries an oxygen tank on his back and swears at his dog a lot. Into this sorry milieu walks a woman, toting several suitcases. It's his wife, Emma (Megan Mullally), whom he hasn't seen for twenty years, since she and her five year old son walked out n him and disappeared. That much we know right at the beginning. What we would never guess is that this is an intelligent man, a published poet, now living below the poverty line, who has escaped from the world and settled into a trailer park in the Colorado Rockies, to await his inevitable fate.

This story of a broken family, is so well written and constantly sprinkled with humor, that you won't find it depressing at all but rather uplifting and dramatically gripping. The actors, both familiar to televiewers, bring their characters to life with amazing artistry. Mullally, with her piercing voice and disgusted demeanor, is an eyeful as she methodically cleans and scrubs her way through the filthy mess and is riveting right to the end, when she reveals the reason for her sudden departure. Offerman, a reformed drunk who remembers nothing is so convincing, we can almost smell him. He's truly fabulous as he transforms from behind his veneer of a rough and angry individual, to a man who is unable to reign in his emotions when confronted with the truth. A stunning performance, not to be missed. Mullally and Offerman are husband and wife in real life and we are grateful to Bart De Lorenzo for bringing them together and directing them superbly in this unforgettable play. Compliments all around, to Beth Hogan from the Evidence Room for producing, to costume designer Ann Closs-Farley and scenic designed Michael Gend for their inspired collaboration and a standing ovation for award-winning playwright Sharr White.

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Wednesday 5/22 & 29, Thursday 5/16, 23 & 6/6. Friday and Saturday 8 pm Sunday 2 pm . (dark 5/24-26) $30, students and seniors $5 off, except Saturday night) No intermission. Parking in front $3. (310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com ends 6/9


Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: About a five minute drive from the Odyssey, is FREDDY SMALLS BAR & KITCHEN. Except for the TV over the bar, this could double for a plain, retro kitchen with its wooden cutting board table tops and dishtowel napkins. They have loud music, small plates and big prices (devilled egg, $4). But, please, don't stop reading because the food here is terrific, the menu intriguing and service couldn't be better or friendlier. No reservations are accepted but you're coming early, before the show and shouldn't have any seating problems. The place is very popular and after a bite of two, you'll know why. We savored our chicken liver mousse, generously smeared on a single slice of toasted French bread, bedecked with a few paper-thin pickles, pickled radishes and strewn with frisee, divine $7. Smoked fingerling potatoes are brown and crisp, skin on, with a kicky, tartar-type sauce in a small container, which we scraped so clean, they needn't have put it in the dishwasher, $7 also. Their flash-grilled (for maybe a second), is hand-chopped, rare beef of the best quality, topped with an egg yolk to be mixed in. It comes with fresh, fingerling potato chips, $14. Three selections, all outstanding and just right for two to share. They have fried sprouts $8, asparagus $13 and a chicken preparation for $28. The next time, I'm going for the smoked trout and some of the other goodies on that tempting menu. Wine starts at $9 per glass, no bargain either but worth every penny.


Freddy Smalls Bar & Kitchen, 11520 W. Pico Blvd, between Gateway and Barrington, West Los Angeles. Full bar. Late night menu. Valet parking $5. No reservations. (310)479-3000




EMBRACEABLE ME by Victor Cahn

Spring is here and romance is in the air, as well as on this stage, simply set with some strategically placed tables and chairs. The focus is on the two actors, Allison (Lydia Medeiros) and Edward (Victor Holstein), who first met in college and became close friends. Not sweethearts, mind you, just good buds. We know they're meant for each other - but they don't. She has a quicksilver personality, he's introspective and reserved. Their story is told primarily in monologues, as they break the fourth wall and address the audience. They are both excellent, appealing performers and keep us constantly amused, thanks to playwright Cahn's snappy dialogue. Their roles are skillfully fleshed out, revealing their innermost thought with gentle humor. This is no ordinary courtship, as they each follow their destiny for many years and their careers take them to different parts of the country. He becomes an editor, she ends up a TV personality. When they do see each other though, there's an unmistakable connection which leaves no doubt that opposites attract. Or, is that just an old canard? Will they fall into each other's arms or go their separate ways? You go and find out.

Top notch director and sound designer, C. Ryanne Laratonda, keeps the action in constant motion and effortlessly takes us through dozens of scenes for an uninterrupted seventy minutes without so much as a pause, and, in the end, you'll hate to bid adieu to that quirky, young woman and that handsome fellow.

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre Street at 8th, San Pedro. Friday & Saturday , 5/10 & 11, Wednesday & Thursday 5/15 & 16,8 pm. $27, seniors $24, students $20. Free parking, enter via the alley. (310)512-6030 or www.littlefishtheatre.org ends 5/16

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Just minutes from Little Fish Theatre is NIKO'S PIZZERIA, a misnomer if there ever was one. The place is big and bold, with the characteristics of a sports bar and lots of TV screens. Of course, they have pizza, who doesn't these days? But in addition to ribs, salmon and Italian fare, from $11.25 to $15.95, they serve Greek food daily, which was the magnet that drew us in. Starters are on the steep side, a small bowl of feta cheese mixed with roasted red bell peppers and pita bread, a portion which some restaurants supply complimentary, is $7.95 and tasted too sweet. We fixed it up with a dash of red pepper flakes and a shower of cheese, both at table. Their lamb shank, on the other hand, is a bargain at $13.95, tender and covered with rich, tart gravy, with rice and pita bread. The lamb chops are excellent also, $15.95, very generous and include rice and sautéed, mixed vegetables which were on the sweet side, as well. This chef likes sugar and, perhaps, you do too but I had to donate some of my yummy sauce to make them palatable. They also have moussaka, pastitsio, stuffed grapeleaves etc. Service is casual and wine, Italian and California varietals, goes from $6 for a nice, full glass. Business on a Wednesday evening was booming.

Niko's Pizzeria, 399 E. 6th Street, San Pedro. Open from 10 am to midnight seven days a week. Beer and wine. Metered parking lot across the street, free after 6 pm. (310) 241-1400.



REAL MEN SING SHOWTUNES.....AND PLAY WITH PUPPETS by Nick Santa Maria and Paul Louis
If you need a good laugh right about now run, don't walk, to catch this kick of a show, which does for men what Menopause The Musical did for women. It speaks to men in their language and is slightly risqué. The guys will relate and sophisticated women will have fun, too. Listen up, ladies, if you don't have a sense of humor, please stay home!

The stage is framed with paintings of masculine paraphernalia: sports equipment, tools and car parts (set by James W, Gruessing, Jr.) and backed by scenic projections. The three multi-talented performers do more than justice to the smart lyrics and snappy, live music composed by Santa Maria and Paul Louis and their voices and harmonies are first rate. It skewers marriage, fatherhood, male bonding, dating and, of course, sex, in ingeniously humorous ways. It gets just a tiny bit serious about death in a song called Mortality Blues and wistful in Sweet Mother of Mine. They do a bluegrass trio based on the old joke, that the most expensive affair a man can have is with his own wife. It's very cleverly staged, as well, especially in a number called I'm Not Gay and becomes downright hysterical with the help of puppets (Erwin Bayan and Jason Sluyter, puppeteers). Throughout the performance there are little pauses during which the cast, dressed in choir boy robes, reads from "the holy scriptures", explaining why men are the happier gender, with funny one-liners like "we can pee anywhere" and "a make over is getting your car painted". The direction of this award-winning, West Coast premiere is by author-composer-actor Nick Santa Maria, who deserves a triple salute for giving us this wonderful entertainment. A must see for adult audiences.

Norris Theatre, 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates. Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2 pm. $38. Free parking in adjoining garage. (310)544-0403 or www.norriscenter.com

ends 5/12

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: For twenty years, MISTO has been a favorite dining destination for Palos Verdes hill dwellers and is practically on the way up to the Norris. Tucked into Hillside Village with other restaurants, boutiques and offices, it has the casual charm of a European bistro with a neat al fresco area. Recently spruced up after a disastrous flooded floor, which closed the place for three months, it's back on the scene. The menu defies description but is basically American fare with international accents mixed among Italian, French, Mediterranean and Asian preparations. Misto means "mixed" in Italian and there you have it. It is ideal for bringing some fussy eaters who only like one type of cuisine and we all know a few of these, don't we? One language everyone understands is good value and nice service. At Misto you can grab a salad or some pasta, from $9.50. China Coast chicken bowl is $13.95, a steak Diane $18.95. In between, there's cioppino $17.95 and much more, plus nightly specials. They do a home style spaghetti and meatballs and a colorful, enormous Misto Asian bowl for $15.95. The latter overflows with noodles, bits of beef, clams etc., umpteen veggies and a couple of pot stickers. You'll have fun treasure hunting for the goodies with chopsticks and twirling the noodles around your fork. The wine list is short but has some uncommon bottlings from California, Chile, Italy etc. Wine by the glass from $6.50. There's complimentary bread and an olive oil dip loaded with garlic, tasty but I would suggest both you and your companion have some, if you're headed for the show. Too bad about the guy next to you....Allow about ten minutes to drive up the hill to the theatre.

Misto Caffe & Bakery, 24558 Hawthorne Blvd., Torrance. Beer and wine. Lunch weekdays, breakfast Saturday and Sunday 10 am - 2:30 pm., dinner nightly except Monday. Free parking in Hillside Village. (310)375-3608.



RAISE ME UP by Lisa Phillips Visca
This cute story about love at first sight and old fashioned family values plays like a classic, black and white movie. A world premiere, it is based on the life of the playwright's parents. It opens in 2004,showing an attractive, elderly couple still in the throes of marital bliss. Cynics may scoff but all you unabashed romantics out there, will relish it.
Flash back fifty-four years earlier and witness the complicated Greek-Italian connection between two young people. He's from a stereotypical New York Italian household, where the baddest four-letter word is "diet". She's a Greek girl with corkscrew curls who's never been kissed. It's 1950, after all. That's when Louis Padula (handsome Michael Marinaccio) and Rosita Theophanous (Serena Dolinsky) first meet on the Staten Island Ferry. She smiles - he's at once besotted with love but their families declare war, especially her father (the excellent Stuart Pankin), a rigid patriarch, whose own arranged marriage serves as his role model for eventual happiness. The commendable cast, all with impressive show biz backgrounds, includes Louis' playboy of a brother, Johnny (Mitch Lerner), his mamma (the delightful Lenora May), whose little malapropisms are always good for a laugh and his dad (john Del Regno). Rosita's elegant mother is the famous Evelyn Rudie, a former child star (read her program bio). Rudie with her Director husband Chris De Carlo, are the founders and Artistic Directors of this jewel box of a theatre, on these remises for fifty-two years, Bravo! Also giving a notable performance is Joey Shea as the unwelcome suitor, chosen by old man Theophanous as the ideal husband for Rosita, not only because he is Greek but also happens to be his employer. Go fight that! What's the old adage? The course of true love never runs smoothly? Raise Me Up is the poster child for that one. Incidentally, the frequent caveat: "Don't bring your Aunt Bertha", does not apply here. She'll love it, it may evoke her memories of a more innocent time and is suitable for all ages.

Santa Monica Playhouse, Main Stage, 1211-4th Street, Santa Monica. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm. $25, seniors and students $22.50, children under 12, $15. Park in Structure 1 across the street. (310)394-9779 or www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com ends 5/19

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Just five minutes from the Playhouse is BORDER GRILL, one of SoCal's favorite Mexican restaurants. Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, lovingly known as The Two Hot Tamales, started this venture when women chef/proprietors were fairly rare. Due to their entrepreneurial skills and thanks to a well-oiled publicity machine, their names have become household words. Together they now own five properties, including a food truck in DTLA. But back to Santa Monica. The room is very large and very loud, its black ceiling and walls covered with primitive paintings that are also very loud but along with their famous Margaritas, sets the mood here. It's not your neighborhood Mexican hangout, prices are upscale but the cuisine is a notch above, with original recipes, a distinct flair and superb service. Entrees range from $17.50 for chile relleno to $36.50 for gaucho steak. In between, there's Yucatan pork $21.50 and chicken mole $24.50 etc. An order of guacamole clocks in at $9.75 but it's custom made and truly fabulous, with a little salad. Their Baja-style ceviche, with chopped shrimp and fresh fish, seasoned with cilantro aioli, decorated with a wedge of avocado is outstanding and a good portion, $11.50. These two items would be a perfect, light dinner for a warm evening, before the show. Also recommended is the grilled turkey breast in black peppercorn sauce which comes with exquisitely flavored and textured, seared greens. Also included are fried, sweet platanos which, frankly, would have tasted better not smothered in gravy, a relative bargain at $19.50. Wine from $9 per glass. You may be in time for Happy Hour, from 4 - 7 pm. But the bar area is probably already fully packed.

Border Grill, 1445 - 4th Street, Santa Monica. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Full bar. Park in Structure 5 across the street (first 90 minutes free). (310)541-1655.



PARADISE A Divine Bluegrass Musical Comedy, Music and Book by Bill Robertson, Tom Sage and Cliff Wagner

Bluegrass and country music fans will truly be in paradise at this show. Who knew that life among the shit-kickers could be such fun? We're in a depressed, little coal mining town named Paradise (cute set by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz), whose church has just burnt down. Into the midst of this calamity comes a handsome evangelist, the Reverend John Cyrus Mountain (Jonathan Root), whose devilish charm and glib tongue convinces the local rubes that, by building a new mega-church there, tourists from everywhere will flock to worship, pick up the economy and make everyone rich. His competition is Rebecca Washington (Marie Françoise Theodore), a hard-nosed Hollywood type, who arrives with a scheme for a reality TV show to be filmed in Paradise, promising to make all the inhabitants famous.

Cliff Wagner and his Old #7 Band's overture, will immediately get you clapping your hands and tapping your toes and the musical compositions throughout the show are nothing short of inspired. The cast is amazingly talented, they all sing superbly, act well and can dance, too - each one of them a star in his or her own right. Root as the ruthless Reverend is a dynamo in a silk suit, who alone is worth the price of admission. His colleagues are no slouches, either. His cohort, the gorgeous Betsy Landon as Chastity Jones, a former pole dancer, in her platinum wig and provocative wardrobe (costumes by Sarah Figoten Wilson), is a major babe. Rachel Noll, playing sweet Luanne, a pillar of the community, is genuinely appealing and steals the heart of the simpatico Michael Rubenstone as Peter Silverman, the TV cameraman and wannabe songwriter. Robert Craighead is Old Man Johnson, hillbilly incarnate and proud of it. We also have the town's dapper Mayor, Mr. Gayheart (the nimble-footed Jason Rowland), a man with an unlimited wardrobe of gloves and Tater, his son (Elijah Rock) who tap dances up a storm. Kristal Lynn Lockyer is a blast as the porky Cyndi, a loveable troublemaker. As mentioned previously, they have really fine voices and rock Tom Campbell's choreography. Special cheers go to Robertson, Sage and Wagner for the hilarious text, unabashedly risqué and delightfully witty. The clever direction by Dan Bonell sustains the quicksilver tempo, making us want more, even after the slightly hokey ending. Dan Weingarten is in charge of the lighting and an uncredited master is responsible for the sound effects. This little gem has been quietly drawing packed houses since February and has been extended again to give y'all a chance to enjoy it. And enjoy it you will!

Ruskin Group Theatre, Sante Monica Airport, 3000 Airport Drive, Santa Monica. $25, students, seniors and Guild members $20. Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2 pm. (310)397-3244 or www.ruskingrouptheatre.com ends 5/4

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: One never gets tired of dining at TYPHOON at the Santa Monica Airport, a stone's throw from the Ruskin, because the menu reads like a map of the Orient and you can taste the multi-cultural specialties of China: Mongolian beef $20; Japan: shoyu ramen $12; Indonesia: mi goring noodles $12; Vietnam: goi can (shrimp wrapped in rice paper $10; Thailand: green curry shrimp $19; Taiwan: manila clams $15; Burma: tea salad $12; Malaysia: Kway teow (Rice noodles with chicken, shrimp and vegetables) $12; Korea: kalbi (short ribs) $21 and the Philippines: pancit molo soup $12, even samosas from India and a pink snapper from New Zealand and much, much more. If you're homesick, get the salmon and mashed potatoes. Are you salivating yet? Believe me, the food is really delicious and authentic, as well. Gastronomic daredevils can amaze their dinner companions by ordering insects like Macedonian ants, Taiwanese crickets (I had some of those in China once - it's like eating shrimp with their shells on), Singapore scorpions or silkworm pupae. Bon appetit! I would suggest getting two dishes and sharing among two people. Portions are very generous. I can vouch for the excellent chap chae, a Korean staple of glass noodles with a dozen slivered vegetable $12 and the grilled pork, a Filipino specialty (or the similar pollo adobo) $15, a heap of sliced pork, crisply grilled and unbelievably tasty, served with vinegar and garlic for dipping, the same combination in which the meat has been marinated. Good wines from $7 per glass and fanciful cocktails with names like Tailspin and Dynamo. Typhoon sits right by a runway, with private planes taking off and landing in full view through the floor to ceiling windows. But you better bring someone you like to look at, in case of dense fog when all air traffic is at a standstill, as happened on this visit. There's entertainment (call for schedule) and jazz night every Monday, $10 cover, no minimum. Service is first class and the drive to the theatre takes less than five minutes.

Typhoon,3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Santa Monica Airport. Full bar. Park in front and take the elevator to the 1st Floor. (310)390-6565

HEADS UP, BALLETOMANES: The fabulous Eifman Ballet from St. Petersburg, Russia, comes to Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts for four performances only, May 3 - 5. Choreographed by that genius, Boris Eifman, a full length RODIN is on schedule this year, Miss it at your own peril. (714)556-2787 or www.scfta.org



WALKING THE TIGHTROPE by Mike Kenny

This community-oriented, family friendly theatre company brings us a rarity: a charming play that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Little Esme (Paige Lindsay White), who is about five years old, has been spending the end of summer at her grandparents' house in an English seaside town, since she was a baby. This year, circa 1959, something has changed, namely, her grandma is nowhere to be found. It seems like a simple story but there's a lesson here, how to deal with the loss of a loved one and explain it to a child, without becoming maudlin. A difficult premise, which the playwright handles with delicacy and a light touch. Grandpa Stan (Mark Bramhall) concocts a tale every child can understand - Nanna has run away to join the circus!

As directed by Debbie Divine, this West Coast premiere sparkles with imagination and stimulates ours, as well. Thus we all spend time at the beach, cook up some pudding in the kitchen and find excitement at the circus. The delightful presence of a silent clown (Tony Duran), who doubles as a stage hand and prop master, lending a helpful hand whenever one is needed, provides a touch of magic. The stage, framed by a circus tent (set by Keith Mitchell), looks sparse but the production comes to life with the help of Matthew Hill's video projections, the realistic sound design by John Zalevski and illumination by Dan Weingarten. Master musician Michael Redfield accompanies the action, getting us into the circus mood with that typical oompah beat and gradually tempering his score into a melodious flow of harmonious, never intrusive, music. And, of course, the two leads keep us spellbound. White accurately mimics the movements and expressions of a young child. Bramhall, whose credits include both the San Francisco based ACT and SoCal's A noise Within, groups whose artistic excellence is justly renowned, gives a marvelous portrayal of an old man who must bear his own grief but who finds solace by lightening the load for his granddaughter. The play is suitable for children eight years or older. I might add that on my night there were lots of kids in the audience, all mesmerized by the story and not one peep out of any of them for seventy, uninterrupted minutes.

24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th Street, Los Angeles. Saturday 3/16, 23 & 30 at 2 pm, and 7:30 pm. (now extended, see below) $15, children under 10 $10, seniors, students and teachers $12. North University Park residents, 24 cents. Parking lot corner of 24th and Hoover $5. (213)745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org ends 5/18

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Less than five minutes from the 24th Street Theatre, is the 23RD STREET CAFÉ, a student hang-out, which automatically means it's dirt cheap and very casual. The "silverware" is plastic and the "china" metal plates. If you're a snob who only goes in for fine dining, you can stop reading right here. The front room with USC sports posters h as a counter at which you order (the food is delivered to your table). The adjoining room adds a soupcon of atmosphere with large portraits of Ghandi and there's a cute patio out back, waiting for the spring weather that's just around the corner. There's no wine but lots of fresh fruit smoothies, assorted teas in exotic flavors, lattes and espresso. The menu is quite interesting, you can get Indian entrees and snacks, vegetarian thalis plus Mexican fajitas, burritos, quesadillas and tacos, also burgers, salads and sandwiches. We went Indian with chicken tikka masala, little cubes in a mild, creamy sauce and baingan bharta, a roasted eggplant puree, $7.99 each. Both came on large, sectioned plates with rice studded with an occasional green pea, raita, thin yoghurt with bits of cucumber and carrots , saucy lentils and lots of warm naan bread, all quite delicious. The eggplant is a real nose blower and, if too spicy for you, spoonfuls of rice or the cooling raita, will ease the burn. The check, with one coffee $1.39 and one tea $2, came to less than thirty dollars. No sticker shock here!

23rd Street Café, 936 W. 23rd Street at Portland, Los Angeles.Free wi-fi, no alcohol (alas, no BYO either).. Open daily 6 am to 10 pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Street parking. (213)749-1593.


I'LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT by Peter Colley

If your idea of a good time is to raise a few goose bumps and feel the hair at the back of your neck rise up, you'll have fun at this thriller. A young wife, Jan Sanderson (Joanna Strapp), who suffered a recent mental breakdown, is taken to recuperate at a rented, old, isolated farmhouse, by her scientist husband Greg (Tyler Pierce), not exactly a restful milieu for that purpose. It has a creepy, lived-in look (adroit set by Stephen Gifford) and a long history of murderous activity, complete with ghosts, as recounted with obvious glee by a jovial neighbor, George (Ron Orbach). The Sanderson's fragile marriage is further threatened by Greg's invitation to his sister Laura (Kate Maher), for an extended visit. Trouble is, these two women can't stand each other, exacerbated by Jan's assumption that their relationship is less like that of siblings but more like bed-mates. I won't tell you what anybody is up to but the spooky proceedings are lightened by a generous sprinkling of humor and helped enormously by Drew Dalzell's chilling sound design and Luke Moyer's clever lighting.
The cast is strong. The petite Strapp looks like an antique doll, with her gossamer dress and dreadlock-like do, frightened and ripe for protection - but from whom? Pierce, the husband, with his bespectacled countenance and Chippendale bod, gives just the right enigmatic performance that has us wondering …who is this guy? The gorgeous Maher is the epitome of glamour (costumes by Diane K. Graebner), she's dressed like a model in New York City black, sleek as a cat and the villain incarnate. Or is she? Orbach, as the friendly, old local is a teddy bear of a man, a born raconteur who tipples good humouredly but who also has a few surprises up his denim sleeve. Co-directors David Rose and author Peter Colley pepper the suspense with unexpected (and expected) special effects and keep us guessing up to the last drop of blood.

Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third Street at Cypress, Burbank. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, matinees on Saturday at 3 and Sunday at 2 pm. $20 - $42, student, group and senior discounts available. Free parking at the theatre entrance in the Burbank Town Center Mall. (818)558-7000 ext. 15 or www.colonytheatre.org ends 3/2

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion :There's a new Vietnamese eatery, MAMA HONG'S in the midst of the restaurant intensive San Fernando Boulevard, just a few minutes from the theatre. It looks appealing, prettied up by a mirrored wall strung with neon-like ribbon effects that constantly change color and provide all the atmosphere we need. If you're a stranger to Vietnamese cuisine, this is the ideal intro - it's fresh, simple and very reasonable. If you are already a fan, you'll appreciate the quality and flavors offered here. Start with the traditional spring rolls, natural, not fried, filled with shrimp, vermicelli and crunchy veggies, $3.95 for an order of two rolls. Dip them into the hoisin/peanut sauce (you can add some soy or fiery sriracha sauce), a good appetizer to share. As a main course, you can get the ubiquitous pho, $7.50- $9.50 (for filet mignon pho), the popular banh mi sandwiches $4.95 and Vietnamese beef stew $7.95 to $8.95. They don't have my favorite, chicken or beef in lemongrass sauce but they are very new on the scene and don't have a wine license yet, either. Meanwhile I can recommend their vermicelli with grilled meat, a bowl chockfull of soft, room temperature noodles, topped with greens, cukes, sprouts etc., and the meat of your choice, pork sausage, chicken, beef or pork, the latter in thin, lean, grilled strips, really excellent, served with a cup of nuoc cham broth which you pour over the whole thing, $7.50. They also have vermicelli with tilapia marinated in turmeric, sounds intriguing and I plan to try it next time when, perhaps, one can sip a little wine or sake along with all these delicacies. Another enjoyable entrée is the stir-fry combo, wok-tossed shrimp, pieces of chicken, bits of beef, bok choy, broccoli etc., with egg noodles $9.95 (for an extra dollar it comes in a crispy noodle basket.) Service is attentive and you don't have to be a fortuneteller to predict a bright future for Mama, with these prices and no competition in the immediate vicinity.

Mama Hong's Vietnamese Kitchen, 211 N . San Fernando Blvd.,Burbank. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No alcohol. Park in public lot around the corner on Orange Grove. (919) 558-6262.



7 STORIES
by Morris Panych

The best thing about this play is its premise. A suicidal man (Eric Charles Jorgenson) climbs up to the 7th floor of an apartment building. While on the ledge, he becomes involved in the lives of several tenants. We meet these diverse personages as they pop open the windows that are lined up at the top of the stage. Clever set, as always, by Jeff G. Rack. This situation lends itself to high drama and/or rollicking comedy yet neither is achieved by this West Coast premiere. What we do get are some laughs as we momentarily get glimpses of the occupants' shenanigans and a terrific ensemble of seven actors, six of them in dual roles, including Jennifer Laks and Steve Oreste. They're so well disguised and be-wigged, it's impossible to tell who's who by their program photographs. Outstanding among the cast are Richard Hoyt Miller in his turn as a paranoid old man with a memory problem, not to mention a persecution complex. Jill Ramez does a fine job as an all-business-no-heart Russian nurse, presumably trained in a Gulag, who takes care of a 100-year old lady, amusingly portrayed by Flora Plumb. Greg Barnett channels the late Andy Kaufman in speech and mannerisms, as an interior decorator with artsy-fartsy pretensions.

Bruce Gray directs the play without intermission, giving his cast quite a workout behind the scenes, as they don party hats, glue on moustaches etc., honing their talents as quick-change artists. The expert lighting is by Ric Zimmerman. We never do find out why this man wants to end it all. In conclusion, I have to say that the Canadian playwright's "metatheatrical" ending, as described in the program note, frankly, does nothing to elevate the work into a loftier realm.

Theatre 40, Reuben Cordova Theater, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, on the grounds of Beverly Hills High School. Thursday - Saturday 9 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $24 - $26. Free parking in building garage, adjoining the theatre. (310) 364-0535 or www.theatre40.org
Ends 2/24

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: In December, when I visited SEASONS they were not officially open and catered to an invited guest list. Now that the pans have deglazed, I'm even more convinced that they will find great success and an enthusiastic following at the Westfield Mall. They're part of a chain but you'd never guess it. The huge space, formerly Houston's, is divided into several rooms, including a bar with live entertainment (piano and vocals) nightly. It's tastefully decorated, using their walls as a wine cellar and the romantic lighting makes you even better looking than you are, guaranteed. Save the gorgeous outdoor patio for the warmer weather ahead. Menu prices, which in December, went from $17.95 for chicken, to $24.95 for steaks, have climbed upwards. If you look at the nightly Chef's Specials, steaks and roasts are $25.95 to $29.95 and on the regular menu $28.95 for a lamb T-bone or a filet mignon. What hasn't changed is the top notch service and quality ingredients of the seasonal dishes. They don't use butter nor do they serve bread. I saw lots of flatbread trays (around $11) go by but we didn't want to fill up to the brim, pre-theatre. But we did cave in to the dessert display (more later). There's a good wine list with several unusual labels. The Indiba Chardonnay from South Africa has a good nose but a harsh finish, per glass $7.50.They do an excellent Pacific salmon, roasted and served on a small cedar plank with perfect asparagus spears (hot but still firm, why don't mine ever turn out that way?), crisp carrots and parsnips plus the best roasted potatoes. Little fingerling halves, skin on, with incredible flavor, from Weiser Farms in Modesto, love and kisses to the folks up there, $21.95. Also recommended is penne pasta with jumbo shrimp, spinach, sundried tomatoes and sour cream, well-prepared and excitingly seasoned, $19.95. Finally, they bring you a selection of mini-indulgence desserts in cute, little square glass containers, just a sweet bite or two for $2.75 - who can resist that? The pecan pie with vanilla mousse was great!

This just in: Seasons 52 has received a nomination as The Most Promising New Restaurant, from the Southern California Restaurant Writers. The ceremony and banquet (a.k.a. the Oscars of the Restaurant Industry) takes place at the fabulous Ranch Restaurant, 1025 E. Ball Road at Lewis Street. On March 11, 2013 at 6 p.m. (open to the public)$110 per person, includes wines, dinner, tax and gratuities. Information & tickets: (888) 656-1324

Seasons 52, Westfield Century City Mall, 10250 Santa Monica Boulevard, Century City. Full bar. Open daily for lunch and dinner.(310)277-5252. Parking in underground garage. This is the only annoying aspect dining here. It takes forever to find a vacant space and now, effective February 1st, they even charge $1 an hour for parking. Booooo!

 




PICK OF THE VINE
Every year, Little Fish Theatre unveils the best short plays culled from hundreds of submissions. pThis year's crop is again of premium vintage and deserves a hearty toast and three loud cheers! Here's a quick synopsis of each of the chosen eight:

THE KISS by Mark Harvey Levine, directd by Staphanie Coltrin.
Bill Woski and Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (a real life married couple), are such good buddies that he enlists her help in rating and improving his kissing technique for the future conquests of other women.

A NAME by Mark Cornell, directed by Bill Wolski.
It's not easy to come up with a new baby's name. Rachel Levy is the near-hysterical mom, Craig Shields, the dad.

THE TRUE COST OF HEAVENLY BIRTH INSURANCE by Bill Johnson, directed by James Rice.
A bit of existentialism on a provocative subject: Can we buy, bargain or barter for a perfect life? With Susie McCarthy and Bill Woslki as the celestial insurance salesman.

THE DIVINE VISITATION OFJOEPICKELSIMER by Micah McCoy, directed by James Rice. Deus ex machina, in the form of golfer Rodney Rincon, dispenses some stern advice to couch potato Don Schlossman, about altering his life style. Truly hilarious and marvelously performed.

A FINE ROMANCE by Ben Jolivet, directed by Stephanie Coltrin.
Ebullient reader Baker-Kreiswirth meets vampirical romance author Schlossman, in a chance encounter rife with wit and surprises.

THE EIFFEL TRUTH by Susan Apker, directed by Holly Baker-Kreiswirth.
A lone Englishman (the peripatetic Bill Wolski) meets an American in Paris, who turns out to be an incomp0arable tourist guide. Rachel Levy shines as the latter.

DISCONNECTIONS by Peter Kennedy, directed by Stephanie Coltrin.
A sobering bit about the final hone calls of three doomed individuals, Baker-Kreiswirth, Schlossman and Shields. The serious skits were not as successful this year. The audience was in the mood for laughter and they certainly got their wish in the last number:

ONE FOR THE CHIPPER by Adam Seidel.
A less than victorious Little League team gets a pep talk from coach Wolski. The entire ensemble demonstrates its amazing versatility here. Levy, McCarthy, Rincon and even newcomer Craig Shield, who appeared slightly ill at ease as the Dad in The Name, is perfectly convincing in the 'little kid moves", under the excellent direction of James Rice.

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre Street at 8th, San Pedro. Wednesday- Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm (call for exact dates). $27, senior $24, students $20. Parking lot, enter via the Alley. (310)512-6030 or www.littlefishtheatre.org ends 2/16

Pre-performance Dining Suggestion
Three generations have established J. TRANI'S as a name synonymous with the San Pedro culinary scene among its loyal clientele. There's a cozy, old fashioned feel to this restaurant, the white clothed tables are set apart to allow decent conversation. The vintage aura is further advanced by tons of brick around the dual-level room. The menu is mostly familiar, American food with a light Italian inflection, service attentive, prices on the upscale side, rising to the middle thirties for veal or lamb. But for $26.50 you can enjoy a splendid duck breast, one of the finest you'll ever taste, with a velvety texture and intense flavor, daubed with demi-glace and speckled with corn kernels, a meal to be savored. Not in the same league as their mashed potatoes, watery and tasteless. I hate to say it, but I've tasted better instant mashers. Nicely presented, though, shaped like a disc with a chive stalk rising from the center. In the pasta division, they do a tasty, al dente linguine with scallo0ps and broccolini bits 0lus the added interest of spicy sausage chunks, in a light tomato sauce for $22.50. Portions, I might add, are not doggie-bag sized. Even though Trani's is conveniently close to the Little Fish (abut ten minutes away). This would be a better choice for an evening of leisurely dining with friends, some serious wine sipping, pleasant repartee and absorbing your money's worth of atmosphere and space. I plan to do exactly that, soon.

J. Trani's, 584 W. Ninth Street, San Pedro, Full Bar. Parking lot (310)0832-1220



DIRTY FILTHY LOVE STORY by Rob Mersola

This absolutely terrific show will lift you out of the holiday frazzles and is a must see. You'll thank me for recommending it but you'll thank me even more for not disclosing the goings on in great detail, because the surprise element is part of the fun. Let me just assure you, you'll spend seventy-five, uninterrupted minutes laughing your head off.
Here we have a woman, Ashley (the pleasingly plump Jennifer Pollono), who simply cannot part with any of her possessions, all of which she considers "good stuff". Her next door neighbor Benny (Burt Moseley) is trying to sell his house and is understandably perturbed by all the garbage piled up in front of Ashley's property, sure to discourage prospective buyers. He hires a clean up man, Halbert (Joshua Britton) to get the job done. What happens when two lonely people are thrown together by fate is the gist of this gifted playwright's story.

Pollono is wonderful as the hoarder, a deserted wife without a life, who wears her Bluetooth like an ornament, in conversations with her mother, about the only phone call she ever gets. Moseley is priceless, suffering one mishap after another, his comic flair well suited to the mayhem he endures. Britton, as the professional clean up guy, brings a certain innocent charm to his role as a blue collar shlump, whose only acquaintance with the subject might have been a sex education class in high school - if that. Elina de Santos directs this world premiere with a frothy touch and the scenic design team of David Mauer and Hazel Kuang, should come out and take a curtain call bow along with the fine cast. Marsola's play will get you in a better mood than a pint of eggnog, without the calories, so cancel everything and end a good theatre year at the Rogue Machine.

Rogue Machine Theatre (at Theatre/Theatre) 5041 Pico Blvd., west of La Brea, Los Angeles. Friday 8 pm, Saturday 8 and 10 pm (December 15th, 10:30 only). $20 - $25. Street parking. (855)585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com ends

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Just a few blocks west of the theatre is BLOOM CAFÉ, a casual spot with a menu to match. It's popular with families and health conscious locals. There are gluten-fee desserts, vegan and vegetarian dishes, burgers, wraps, interesting, substantial salads and sandwiches with prices tailored so as to not raise your blood pressure. Everything seems to be $10, $13 or $14. The dinner-oriented items are mostly bowls, the most expensive is $15 for salmon grilled over brown rice. I had the Moroccan chicken with lentils, no discernible Moroccan spices but a nicely grilled breast topped with tomato salsa plus cous-cous in the style of a soft risotto, creamy and somewhat overcooked, $14. In the pasta division, there are turkey meatballs, very tasty, indeed, with whole wheat penne in a fresh tomato-rosemary sauce, $13. No alcohol but lots of juices and smoothies and you can BYOB at no extra charge. Bloom Café is sparkling clean but pretty noisy around the early dinner hour, so it's not going to be a romantic dinner with intimate conversation but more of a"grab a bite to eat before the show" experience. Only a five minute drive to the Rogue Machine but allow a few extra minutes for finding a parking spot.
Bloom Café, 5544 Pico Blvd, at Curson, Los Angeles. Open daily. BYOB. Street parking. (323)934-6900.




ASSISTED LIVING by Paul Dooley & Winnie Holzman
There's not much a reviewer should disclose about this charming story, so as not to ruin the element of surprise, which is a big part of its enjoyment. But you do want to know that the two actors and authors are a married couple, who began writing it many years ago. They left it lying dormant in a trunk and found it, finally, while in New York during the disastrous storm Sandy, holed up in their hotel room with nothing to do and no place to go which proves the old adage "it's an ill wind that doesn't….." Paul Dooley is an accomplished character actor; Winnie Holzman an award-winning playwright, television writer and producer.

The play is performed in three acts, without intermission. It opens in a stylish New York apartment (set by Frederica Nascimiento), the home of Frank (Dooley), whose thirty-six year career as a daytime soap opera doctor is teetering on the brink. His long-time, live-in girlfriend Emily (Holzman), his former make up girl, is a sweet-natured, little woman, who persuades the cranky actor to read and answer his stack of fan mail that has been long neglected and thereby, as they say, hangs the tale. Six months elapse between the next act and we meet two entirely different characters at an assisted living facility, which this versatile pair nails to perfection. Holzman's acting chops are those of a seasoned performer, even though her fame is primarily due to her writing skills and Dooley delivers with his accustomed expertise. The dialogue is filled with both funny one-liners and poignant situations, nicely tailored to their considerable abilities. It's a rare privilege indeed, to be able to applaud cast and authors on stage at the same time. In the guise of a light-hearted piece of theatre, Assisted Living has a lot to say about the human connection and how the most insignificant gesture by one individual can affect the life of another. Go see it!

Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West LosAngeles. $25-$30. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. Parking in front $3. (310)477-2055. Or www.odysseytheatre.com ends 5/12

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Conveniently located near the corner of Santa Monica and Sepulveda Boulevards, sits JIN JIANG a Chinese restaurant, on the 2nd floor of a building in a busy mini-mall. There's outdoor balcony seating and a spacious, pretty interior encircled by large windows, with rattan-type chairs and white cloth-covered tables. These won't stay pristine long because, in China they say: "the spottier the cloth after the meal, the greater was its enjoyment". So, you should make a nice, little mess because the food here is terrific. It would be best to come with at least four people, in order to take advantage of the variety offered. In addition to soups $5.95 -$7.95 and appetizers from $4.95, there's chicken with cashews, lemon or curried, with broccoli etc. $9.95; beef with snow peas, kung pao or Mongolian style etc., $9.95-$10.95; pork chops Peking or Shanghai style etc., $8.95 - $9.95; Chef's Specials and assorted seafood including shrimp in lobster sauce $11.95. (pssst, the "lobster" sauce is actually ground pork sausage. I know this for a fact because I once won a San Francisco newspaper contest with this recipe). Two people can dine very well on three dishes and if you have left-overs, there's always the microwave for re-heating. Some diagonally sliced green onions or snow peas added at the last moment will supply the desired crunch. Rice is extra but only seventy-five cents per order. We loved out Hunan beef in a slightly spicy sauce with sliced zucchini, scallions and bell peppers $10.95, the chicken in black bean sauce with crisp asparagus and carrots $12.95 and the shredded pork in garlic sauce with strands of tree fungus (not contagious but perhaps, addictive) $8.95 and enjoyed it all over again the next day. Portions are ample and you won't be hungry in an hour. Wine is available from $6.95 per glass. The drive to the theatre takes less than ten minutes, once you negotiate the left turn lane from the parking lot.

Jin Jiang, 11057 Santa Monica Blvd, nr Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 2nd floor. There's an elevator on your right. Open daily from 1 am to 9:45 pm. Banquet facilities. Attendant supervised parking lot, free for 45 minutes but it'll cost you about$2 for a leisurely dinner. (310)444-7171.



TOMORROW by Donald Freed

Now we know why "classically trained actor" carries so much weight on a performer's resume. Their vocal prowess, bearing, breath control and diction are drilled into them mercilessly, to make them fully audible to audiences throughout the theatre. It makes one wish that every young actor, the mumblers and those whose high pitched sounds frequently emanate from our stages, had gone through similar training. That said, Tomorrow is basically about a young woman, Laura (Jenn Robbins), who fears the challenge of portraying Lady Macbeth and enlists the help of the revered Abigail Booth (Salome Jens) and her relative, James Booth (Geoffrey Forward), (presumably descendants of the infamous John Wilkes), both now retired Shakespearean actors.

The time is December 2000, with the vexing news of George W. Bush's re-election is broadcast on the radio. The first act is primarily a dissection of what is known in theatrical circles as The Scottish Play (bad luck to mention the name Macbeth). If you love the Bard, you'll revel in the protracted rehearsals and the psychological enigma of the much-discussed text. If you don't, you'll have to wait for Act II, which is much more interesting on a personal level among the highly accomplished cast. The brilliant Jens, as a one hundred year old, former first lady of the theatre, is mesmerizing, even though her luminous eyes, glowing complexion and resonant voice seem unlikely to belong to a centenarian. The tall, slender Robbins is perfectly cast as the young actress faced with self-doubt, yet possessing the ideal set of vocal chords and a poised stage presence, once she is in character. Forward, as the reclusive Jamie, an actor who disappeared from the stage, ironically while appearing as Macbeth, is attractive in a mature way, is a passionate teacher and coach and fascinating as a man with a mysterious past.

This is an international collaboration among L.A.'s Skylight, Rogue Machine and the Royal Theatre of the U.K., which also sent Damian Cruden, the Artistic Director of England's Royal York Theatre, to direct this world premiere. Set and costumes are designed by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, lighting and sound by Jeff McLaughlin and Christopher Moscatiello, respectively. Serious theatre buffs, aspiring thespians, Shakespeare scholars and the like, do not miss Tomorrow. Neil Simon fans: go to a movie.

Skylight Theatre, 1816 ½ North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles.Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm, $17.50 - $34. Parking lot around the corner on Melbourne, $5. (702)582-8587) or www.katselastheatre.com ends 4/21

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Park and walk to the Skylight from THE SIDEWALK GRILL's Mediterranean creations, just the sort of food that's been garnering lots of publicity for its healthful qualities and promise of longevity. Looking at the prices certainly won't raise anyone's blood pressure. The concept is simple enough, you order at the counter, they deliver to your table. Rather than in the cramped interior, sit on the nice, heated, covered patio, surrounded by blooming planter boxes, beneath a canopy strung with yellow lights. Service fluctuates between slow and very slow but that's the only gripe. Besides pita wraps $7.95 - $9.95 and salads $0.95 - $10.95, there's a of six selection of six grill items $9.95 - $12.95, which includes rice, a grilled tomato to mash into it, if you like, a ball of garlic sauce, pita bread and choice of one or two sides. They have tomato and lentil soup, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, three different salads, a really yummy babaganouch sprinkled with sumac and more. The chicken kebab (boneless, white or dark meat) tastes divinely,having been marinated in all sort of Middle Eastern herbs and spices ,$7.95 with one side. The shirazi salad, chopped cukes, tomatoes, scallions etc., has for my taste, too sugary a dressing and dousing it with the fiery Sriracha sauce didn't help. The loin lamb chops are also scrumptious, supposedly five, only four showed up but who's counting. Excellent quality and bone-chewing flavor. They also have salmon, filet mignon and a vegetarian plate. An added attraction is that you can BTOB and park only once in the lot next door for $5,cross the street, walk a block and a half north to the Skylight Theatre.

The Sidewalk Grill, 1727 North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles. BYOB. Open daily from 11 am to 10 pm. (323)669-3354



THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT by Stephen Adly Guirgis

What would Jesus say? Here's a play about the man who betrayed him, whose name is still used as a pejorative, portrayed as a misunderstood, tragic figure. This biblical satire revolves around Judas' trial before a judge (Patrick Riviere, who also directs) and a jury (ensemble). Various well known figures appear as witnesses, pro and con, to determine whether Judas "crossed the line", as it were. There's potty-mouthed Faith Imafidon as a go-go dancing St. Monica (pssst..she ain't no saint), a hard of hearing Mother Teresa (Robin Michelle McClamb), St. Peter (John Dana Kenning), amusing us with his fish stories, the self-absorbed Dr. Sigmund Freud (Paul Michael Nieman), the infamous Pontius Pilate (Jon Gentry) telling his side of the tale in gutter ghetto jargon and many others. The remarkable thing about this work is that it is totally irreverent yet deeply religious at times. Told in the current vernacular (mercifully not in Aramaic), the dialogue is smartly written, which the large cast, several in dual roles, delivers with relish. Notably Sharon Freedman, in spite of a few flubs, gives a riveting, passionate performance as the defense attorney. Her opponent for the prosecution is the energetic Robert Paterno in a spirited turn, which would be more believable without the attempted East Indian accent. Dee Smith is touching as Judas' mother. Patrick Riviere, in the hot seat as Chief Rabbi Caiaphas the Elder, aptly shows his discomfort and his defiance. Satan, wouldn't you know it, is the most interesting character, a rough, slimy dude in a Gucci suit, played with great style by Mark Erickson. Robert Walters is Judas Iscariot, effective both as a rowdy party animal and catatonic prisoner and tall, handsome Jason Cooer Daniels, in his brief appearance as the Messiah Himself, fills the stage with the necessary gravitas.

The scenic design, a stained glass window flanked by the gates of heaven and hell and the spot-on costumes by Jannique Mosely-Niambele, deserve praise. Be advised of two caveats: 1) Do NOT bring your pious Aunt Bertha and 2) this play is much, much too long (three hours!).Circumcision is desperately called for. Note to Director Riviere: the opening scene consists of the first verse of Amazing Grace sung by a chorus fifteen times! Cut that and you can save at least ten minutes, for which we would all be grateful.

Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd. Burbank. Friday & Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 4pm. $20, senior and student discounts available. Street Parking (800)838-3006 or www.brownpapaertickets.com/event/314699 ends 4/6

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Less than a ten minute drive to the Victory, is EL RINCON CUBANO, a little corner of Cuba tucked into a small shopping center. A friendly place with hand-pained murals, bar tables and hard-on-the-tush wooden chairs, it has autentica ccomida Cubana at very reasonable prices, an endearing combination. Beef $11.95, chicken dishes $10.50. For $10.45 you can get a half dozen really huge shrimp in garlic sauce, firs class. Pork Cuban style is a favorite, their roasted leg of pork is boneless, fatless, tender and tasty for $10.50. Both dishes come with fried platanos, black beans (a little bland) and a hill of rice cooked to the perfect point. Service is pleasant but at Caribbean speed, so don't be in a hurry. Don't bother with any wine, instead, try sipping on a frothy mango Margarita $7, which will make you forget all the rude drivers and frequent red lights you may have encountered on you way.

El Rincon Cubano, 5434 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village. Open daily 7 am - 7 pm. Beer and wine. Entertainment Wednesday & Friday. From 7 pm. Park in front. (818)763-6272.


HELD OVER: The riotous Dirty Filthy Love Story, see earlier *** review, has been moved to a new venue and held over until March 24th. For further information call (885)585-5185.



CHINGLISH
by David Henry Hwang

"Anyone planning to do business in China should bring their own translator", is the moral of this hilarious play. Yes, you should - but it won't be nearly as much fun. David Henry Hwang's comedy is about a Midwesterner, Daniel Cavanaugh (Alex Moggridge), badly in need of a financial shot in the arm for his ailing Cleveland-based sign business. His destination is Guiyang, a provincial city out to polish its image and promote tourism with their showy, new Arts Center but the authorities are still smarting from the embarrassment caused by the ridiculous signage at the opening of the Pudang Grand Theatre (Deformed Man's Toilet, instead of Handicapped Restroom), therefore Daniel hopes to score a contract for his company. To facilitate the negotiations with the local officials, he hires a "consultant", Peter (Brian Nishii), a former English teacher and long time Aussie expat, who speaks with an odd British inflection. His Chinese, however is perfect and his knowledge of Chinese customs should make him the ideal go-between, for a fifteen percent commission, of course. It all sounds so simple and fail-safe but we are dealing with the legendary Asian inscrutability, mired by doses of political intrigue, influence peddling and nepotism, a heady brew with a spicy pinch of extra-marital sex. What garners the most laughs, are the translations, especially the mis-translations that appear in surtitles above the stage, as the characters speak Mandarin, English and Chinglish (broken English that used to be called Pidgin English), always with comical results. But you better be a fast reader or you miss a lot.

The cast is letter perfect. In the principal roles, Moggridge has an endearing vulnerability as the optimistic American. Michelle Krusiec, Guiyang's glamorous Vice Minister of Culture, is a femme fatale to be reckoned with. Raymond Ma as a Chinese Minister, an old school politico and wheeler dealer, is absolutely priceless. Austin Ku impresses as an ambitious judge and is a riot as a cocky translator. Celeste Den, Miss Qian, the translator at the opening meeting scene, brings down the house. Vivian Chiu, in the same capacity, presides over a memorable situation, dealing with our hero's involvement in a world-famous, financial scandal, viewed much differently on this side of the world. The production values of this show are outstanding. A set that rotates like a carousel goes from meeting room to hotel lobby to restaurant etc., with amazing speed and technical expertise. Bravos to David Corins, the design team of Jennifer Schriever and Rod Lemmond and to Leigh Silverman for her brilliant and savvy direction. Here's a Chinese feast that won't leave you hungry in an hour - but you might still be chuckling.

South Coast Repertory, Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday February 13, 17, 19 and 20 at 7:30 pm; Thursday - Saturday February 14 - 16 and February 21 - 23 at 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday matinees February 16 - 17 and 23-24 at 2:30 pm, $20 - $70.Parking available on Park Center Drive off Anton Blvd. (714)708-555 or www.scr.org ends 2/24 at 2:30 pm matinee.

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Once word gets out about SILVER TRUMPET RESTAURANT 7 BAR in the Wyndham Hotel, which is right behind the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, you won't be able to get in the place. It's within walking distance of all the theatres and you can park there for the evening (see details below). The dining room, off the hotel lobby, is gorgeous, with a shiny floor of inlaid woods, tables spaced for conversation and stunning amber light fixtures. There are celebrity photos on a wall and small, graceful, metal and marble sculptures are scattered throughout the room. You can dress up for here. Pleasant service and a short wine list, from $9 per glass match the equally uncomplicated menu, starting with a burger $14 to $27 for New York steak medallions. Soup is $6. They have some exciting appetizers including unusual crab cakes. They're described as "with citrus aioli and ratatouille", actually, the latter consists of tiny diced vegetables, nice and crunchy and I couldn't detect any aioli. Delicious, if a little strange, $12. An entrée of short rib steak is a great choice for wintry weather, the meat tender and boneless, the gravy hearty, with walnut and gorgonzola filled ravioli, $21. Their so-called Cornish hen looks like the birdie was on steroids, plump and meaty, darkly roasted, still juicy, alongside sliced oyster mushrooms and nesting on a tasty mish-mash of potatoes, basil and bacon. I never did find the Spanish chorizo mentioned on the menu but I'm not complaining, for $18. If you want to hear more good news, here goes: they are within days of offering a new, three-course, pre-theatre menu for $35. Soup or salad (Caesar or mixed greens); choice of vegetarian pasta with artichoke hearts, olives, asparagus etc.; marinated roast chicken with seasonal vegetables or seared salmon with citrus gremolata; plus dessert (flourless chocolate cake or tarte tatin). For another $25, they will pour you three glasses of different wines and if that doesn't put you in a splendid mood, nothing will!
Silver Trumpet Restaurant & Bar, Wyndham Hotel, 3350 Avenue of the Artes, Coast Mesa. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday brunch Full bar. Park in hotel garage, have your ticket validated at dinner and pick up your car after the show, all gratis. (714)442-8593.



AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
after Jules Verne,by Mark Brown

Ladies and gentlemen, pack your bags for an incredible journey around the world in two and a half hours. Not even the old Concorde could have matched that. This is one of the most enjoyable, imaginative and amazing productions you'll ever have the good fortune to witness. Not only will you be blown away by the five actors who play thirty-nine different characters and how well they do it but the staging is so clever and the dialogue so witty, you won't want this trip to end.

We all know the story by Jules Verne. Phileas Fogg (the veddy proper Jud V. Williford), a fastidious, punctual English gentleman, makes a bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, risking his entire fortune and frequently his life. This is 1872 - they don't know from jets. Together with his devoted French servant Passepartout (the charming Michael Uribes), he sets forth on an adventure you'll only be too happy to share, Against a backdrop of a map of the world (scenic design by Staci Walters), with the considerable help of sound (by Dave Mickey) and lighting(by Donna Ruzika), kudos all around, we visit Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, New York etc., etc. and take rough voyages on the high seas, travel on bumpy railroads and encounter an unforgettable Chief of Police in Bombay (perfect accent by Mark Gagliardi), an ever-present, bumbling detective (the hilarious Brian Stanton) and the talented Melinda Porto, first as a valet, newsboy, ancient seafarer and more, until she emerges as a condemned to the stake, young Indian widow and we see how lovely she really is. And of course, many more assorted, colorful personages one would encounter on such a voyage. Playwright Brown wanted us to have fun at this show and he succeeds royally, under the inspired direction of Allison Bibicoff. Bring the entire family; everybody is going to rave about this gem for a long time to come,

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center,Second Floor, 300 E, Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Thursday - Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $38 - $45, Parking $10. Drive down Pine Avenue to Seaport Village Drive,turn left and proceed to the structure on your right. (562)436-4610 or www.internationalcitytheatre.com ends 2/17

Pre-Performance Dining Suggestion: Another good reason for attending the ICT is, you can eat at GEORGE'S GREEK CAFÉ, whose authentic, home style food and decent prices always make it a pleasure to look forward to. The covered outdoor seating is the most poplar. The interior is fairly plain with blue/white checkered tablecloths and Greek tunes via tapes. That's it for atmosphere. But once your food arrives, you'll be on Mount Olympus. Hearty favorites like moussaka, pastitsio (Greek lasagna), tiropita (spinach and feta cheese-filled phyllo dough), run around $11.50. Souvlaki, skewers of lamb or beef are excellent. Order your beef "medium" and it will still be juicy, with rice and broccoli $13.50. The broccoli is not as boiled to death as in the Greek tradition but still not quite as crisp as our contemporary California palate demands, a minor quibble. The lamb here is outstanding and if you happen to come on a Friday night, there's Kleftico, lamb shoulder which they bake for eight or nine hours (who ha that kind of time anymore?) until the meat really falls off the bone. It comes with cubed, oven-roasted potatoes which have absorbed all those wonderful Greek ingredients (oregano, lemon, virgin olive oil), a delight at $15.95, with salad. You'll find fresh pita bread bedded under most dishes. Service is very attentive and concerned, if slightly amateurish. At least half a dozen people came to check if everything was all right but they brought my entrée before I even finished my salad. How do you say in Greek:"I love you, anyway".
Wine goes from $5 per glass and it's only ten minutes to the theatre.

George's Greek Café, 135 Pine Avenue, Long Beach. Beer and wine. After 5 pm, parking in structure at Pacific and 1st is $3 flat rate. (562)437-1184