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Shepard’s ‘True West’ in Costa Mesa, Albee’s ‘American Dream’ in Fullerton

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Edward Albee and Sam Shepard, arguably America’s finest living playwrights, were both represented in OC by rarely-staged plays opening last weekend. But where Shepard’s “True West” (running at Costa Mesa Playhouse through Apr. 27) has endured as one of his best, Albee’s “The American Dream” (at STAGEStheatre in Fullerton through Apr. 26) doesn’t hold up well.

Albee’s attack on the emptiness of our society was hailed when it debuted in 1961 as a “promising and brilliant… contribution to the Theatre of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, who coined the term. But its bite has been weakened by the passage of time. STAGES’ effort is admirable but tough to endure, despite Phil Brickey’s capable direction. Still, Lynn Gallagher gives a standout performance as Mommy and Jill Cary Martin is a hoot as Grandma. Call 714-525-4484.
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Shepard’s savage Pulitzer Prize winner is like “Dream” an absurdist take on family but the resemblance ends there, as the play pits brother against brother in a battle royale. Where Albee employs Ionesco-like use of clichés, Shepard gives free reign to his incisive and original wit. If he owes something to Pinter or Beckett (to whom he and Albee both bow down), his venomous jabs at the mythology of Hollywood and the American West seem even sharper than they did when the play premiered in 1980.

Michael Serna’s attentive direction is almost invisible at times; he pulls no punches and smartly stays out of the way. His own performance (as Austin, an Ivy League-educated writer) may suffer a little under his direction, but he and Peter Hilton (as Lee, his hot-headed hustler of a brother) make their sibling rivalry so believable, it’s almost scary. Hilton is a powerhouse onstage and funny as hell to boot, as he insinuates himself into Serna’s life. Jeff Bickel (as Saul, a producer) and Ilona Honeyman (as Mom) offer fine support. Serna’s kitchen set is a marvel. Call 949-650-5269.

Hot tip: The Long Beach Shakespeare Co. is celebrating the Bard’s birthday all month. Events include Twain vs. Shakespeare in a one-man show (Apr. 11-12); a party with actors performing sonnets, followed by a reception with cake (Apr. 23); and Richard Armour’s Twisted Tales From Shakespeare (Apr. 25-26). Richard Goad Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., LB. Info at LBShakespeare.org or 562-997-1494.

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Jungle Book, Decasia on Blu-ray, Rossellini on DVD, Maureen O’Hara at TCM fest http://www.examiner.com/article/jungle-book-decasia-on-blu-ray-rossellin...

Q&A: Ben Model, lover of comedy and accidental preservationist of rare films
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