theater beat, teen girl

'TEEN GIRL': Audrey Siegel, left, Zoe Perry, Cody Chappel and Chloe Taylor star in the play written by Justin Tanner and directed by Matt Roth. (Ed Krieger)

Playwright Justin Tanner takes an uncharacteristic segue into sweetness in his 1992 coming-of-age play, "Teen Girl," now in revival at the Zephyr. "Girl" is not the acid-etched indictment of soulless suburban life so typical of Tanner but a scrawled valentine to adolescent romance and the 1970s. Despite its lighter impressions, the result remains indelible, a riotous glimpse of slack-jawed youth as caustic as it is comedic.

Set in 1979, the action takes place in the backyard of a house in Salinas, Calif. For Susan (Zoe Perry), who is about to graduate, her high school years have been a hell of peer pressure and teen angst, exacerbated by the constant needling and criticism from Tricia (Audrey Siegel), Susan's Farrah-haired friend, who considers herself the exponent of all that is cool.

With her mom out of town for the weekend, Susan has been left under the watchful eye of Mrs. Burns (Johanna McKay), the wine-guzzling busybody next door. But when Susan's former baby sitter Mary (Chloe Taylor), now a heroin-fueled punker, visits with her thrasher boyfriend Pete (Guilford Adams), Susan's planned weekend of quiet study descends into chaos.

Gary Guidinger's evocatively tasteless backyard set is perfect for the ensuing escapades. As with many Tanner works, the plot is minimal and character-driven, and director Matt Roth tackles the play's comedic rhythms without a whisper of artifice. Among the terrific cast, Perry is a standout, as is Cody Chappel as Dennis, Susan's classmate and admirer, a twinkling-eyed innocent out to score.

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. The converse does not hold true for Susan, a bright young woman trapped in the valley of the brainless. Her efforts to make sense of her idiotic surroundings is an existential struggle that will frequently leave you howling. We sense that Susan will have a life beyond Salinas, but in the interim, we feel -- and relish -- her pain.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Teen Girl," Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. $20. Ends June 21. (323) 960-7789. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Survivors link past and present

"Kingdom Come" is a truly bizarre theatrical animal -- an old Incan tale translated from Quechua into English (by way of Spanish) and then given a 21st century avant-garde makeover in the form of a group incantation that spans centuries and continents.

That the original story still manages to pulsate powerfully through the layers of linguistic and stylistic drag is remarkable. This over-conceptualized production by the Unknown Theater is frequently ridiculous, but its austere poeticism exerts a hypnotic pull that is difficult to resist.

The play begins as a group of disparate wanderers congregates on stage, all repeating the phrase "Once upon a time." Each character represents a survivor from a real-life political cataclysm -- a Jewish boy from World War II, a member of the Russian royal family, a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb and so on. Gradually, the actors morph into members of an Inca tribe in 16th century South America. Their leader is King Atau Wallpa (David Pavao), a benevolent and wise ruler whose power proves to be tenuous in the face of modernity. An invasion by Spanish conquistadors topples this seemingly idyllic kingdom with alarming speed.

Directed and translated by Dan Oliverio, "Kingdom Come" is a daft experiment in neo-antiquity. The cast performs with a straight face and mostly monotone delivery, which gives the story an unexpected minimalist beauty. The strikingly abstract set (by Chris Covics) suggests a bridge to the past and to the future -- a literal link between eras and civilizations. The play's "We Are the World" vibe can elicit a bad laugh from time to time. But it's a noble folly whose embrace of humanity is never less than heartfelt.

-- David Ng

"Kingdom Come," Unknown Theater, 1110 Seward St., Hollywood. 8 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; 6 p.m., Sundays. Ends June 28. $18. (323) 466-7781. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Witch hunt in darker days

There's thoughtful intent to "Boise, USA" at the Matrix. Inspired by actual events, Gene Franklin Smith's look at a citywide purge of suspected homosexuals in 1955 is certainly pertinent in this Defense of Marriage Act-ridden age. Whether it succeeds dramatically is less determinate.

In docudrama manner, Smith examines the fallout after a police bust of teen hustler Eldon Halverson (Westley Thornton) leaves three prominent citizens arrested. The ensuing scandal mirrors the Red scare, eventually ensnaring Joe Moore (the sensitive Kris Kamm), a local banker whose situation with Doris (a nuanced Melissa Kite), his unseeing wife, edges into areas that Todd Haynes explored in "Far From Heaven."

Smith's narrative hovers between Douglas Sirk-style melodrama and Gore Vidal-level commentary until era details clash with modern attitudes rather than illuminating them. It's also hard to ascertain who the protagonist is supposed to be. Is it long-repressed Joe? Is it court-appointed psychiatrist Jack Butler (the solid Seamus Dever), estranged by personal loss from wife Marjorie (Audrey Moore), the mayor's daughter? To overload an already unwieldy plot, the mayor (George McDaniel), his lavender-toned brother (Cameron Mitchell Jr.) and tormented West Point cadet son (Matty Ferraro) stretch credibility near to breaking. Factor in an overzealous D.A. (Nic d'Avirro) and a questionable FBI agent (Craig Robert Young), and it's clear that rewrites are in order.

This Salem K Theatre Company production is capable, particularly Leigh Allen's noir-flavored lighting and May Routh's excellent period costumes. Apart from some moments of overkill, the cast is proficient, with Dever's haunted voice of sanity and Kite's betrayed spouse especially fine. Yet director Arturo Castillo's stark approach cannot close the tonal rift between bravura emotionalism and detached irony. "Boise" is a respectable effort, but involvement is at best provisional.