Theater Beat: 'And Her Hair Went With Her,' 'Blue Night in the Heart of the West,' '1001' and 'I'd Rather Be Right.'
If you want to catch two wicked talents get into trouble, head for the Fountain Theatre, where Tony winner Tonya Pinkins and "Cold Case" actress Tracie Thoms are tearing it up in "And Her Hair Went With Her," Zina Camblin's vivid if uneven look at African American sisterhood.

Beauty salon partners Jasmine (Pinkins) and Angie (Thoms) agree on the brilliance of Nina Simone and the importance of applying natural oils but not much else. Changing wigs to shift characters, they conjure up their eccentric customers, from a whacked- out blond who decided to become "white" after a racist incident in elementary school to the hilarious B.O.C. (Black Obsessive Compulsive) trailing toilet seat covers and conspiracy theories. By far the most memorable is Pinkins' fierce portrait of a lesbian on death row.

Camblin makes her thesis clear enough -- "self-hatred is the black woman's poison" -- but "Her Hair" can't quite decide how much it wants from the audience.

This irreverent script veers from broad satire to intense drama, never staying with one story line enough to develop it. Fortunately, the gifted Pinkins and Thoms are a pleasure to watch, no matter which direction they're heading.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

"And Her Hair Went With Her," Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 15. $18-$25. Contact: (323) 663-1525. Running time: 90 minutes.

Grit, grime of America's soul

A fun-house mirror held up to the American Dream, British playwright James Stock's darkly comic "Blue Night in the Heart of the West" at Hollywood's new Open Fist Theatre presents a surreal reflection of our tarnished national image, as viewed from an outsider's perch.

That observer is personified in Andrew MacAlpine (Shawn MacAulay), an amiable Scottish gardener who flees a stagnant life in his native Highlands for the promise of reinvented identity in the Land of Liberty. What he finds instead is a nightmarish odyssey that takes him from the streets of New York to an Iowa cornfield, where the metaphorical affliction of "soil creep" becomes a literal element in Jeff G. Rack's splendidly atmospheric set.

Director Amanda Weier certainly knows how to get our attention, opening each act with an act of primal carnality. Her visually inventive staging unleashes a skilled cast on the ample weirdness afforded by the script.

The standout performance is by Hepburn Jamieson as the demented farm family matriarch, embodying the most unpleasant extremes of the American soul as Stock sees it, whether driving off intruders with sullen hostility or being driven by unnatural lusts. Benjamin Burdick and Daryl Dickerson bring volatile intensity to her offspring as they entangle Andrew in their clutches.

Probing the Heartland for lurking shadows of incest, isolationism and religious fanaticism, Stock's idiosyncratic approach to storytelling is reminiscent of David Lynch at his most inscrutable. Characters speak straight from the depths of their jumbled and disordered psyches. The stream-of-consciousness narrative pivots on quirky encounters that may or may not turn out to connect to a meandering plot that seems to have been stumbled onto rather than crafted by the playwright.

Stock's frustratingly erratic script sports flashes of luminous insight into American foibles, as well as distortions that are jarringly off-base. Regardless, to the extent his perspective is representative of the world at large, we have a huge repair job ahead of us.

-- Philip Brandes

"Blue Night in the Heart of the West," New Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; dark May 31. Ends June 21. $20. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Lost in a complex Arabian night

Jason Grote's "1001," playing at the Theatre@Boston Court, is a strange and aggressively postmodern re-imagining of Scheherazade and the "Arabian Nights." Set in ancient Persia and modern-day New York, featuring guest appearances by Osama bin Laden and Gustave Flaubert, the play is nothing less than a chaotic, sprawling mess, though always a fascinating one.

The Persian king Shahriyar (John Sloan) desires a different bride every night, but his latest conquest, Scheherazade (Monika Jolly), proves unique by charming her way into the tyrant's heart with her storytelling. Her nontraditional tales include an incestuous love story between siblings that has overtones of "Vertigo"; a dark story about a homeless New Yorker wandering the subway system; and a political romance between a Jewish graduate student and a Muslim classmate set around the Sept. 11 attacks.

"1001" is an ambitious and risk-taking play that makes quite a few demands on the audience. The recursive structure is often difficult to follow, and the literary references will probably confound those who aren't well versed in Jorge Luis Borges and other high-brow writers. Perhaps fearing that he might lose his audience, the playwright has one of the characters voice a sympathetic explanation: "It's like we're trapped in this grand narration, and we're trying to defy it . . . or reinvent it."