Antibalas and Zap Mama come to the Broad. Photo by Marina Abadjieff

AFROBEAT AT THE BROAD

Irresistibly contagious rhythms, horns, beats and vocals are on tap at The Broad Stage, Feb. 21 for one night only, as the large band Antibalas and the incredible vocalists of Zap Mama led by Belgian/Congolese singer Marie Daulne, get together for a brilliant night of Afrobeat music that will rock your world!

These bands represent the absolute tops in the field of world music. The evening will follow the progression of music from the breath to percussion to full band arrangements, and I can pretty well guarantee that you won’t be able to stay in your seat once the performance begins.

For details, visitwww.thebroadstage.com or call (310) 434-3200.

O’NEILL AT THE ODYSSEY

I went to the Odyssey Theatre for the opening night of “Anna Christie,” the 1922 Pulitzer Prize winning play by legendary American playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Boasting two TV stars, the Hollywood crowd ate it up and audience comments overheard were gushing variations of “wasn’t that just spectacular.” I thought it was laudable but unevenly overacted.

The staging is both simple and complex, including the water feature surrounding the set and the diagonally thrust stage mimicking the deck of a barge. The lighting is moody and misty (a bit overdone, with the fog machine causing coughs amongst some audience members), and the solo saxophonist adds a jagged musical edge to the mix.

I guess this might properly be called an adaptation since the original cast included eight (minor) characters who don’t appear here. (Condensed this way, I don’t see the need for them).

The stars are Jeff Perry (Chris), who plays White House Chief of Staff in ABC-TV’s “Scandal,” Kevin McKidd (he’s Dr. Owen Hunt in “Grey’s Anatomy”) as Mat, and in a burst of inspired casting, Zoe Perry (Anna) appears as Jeff Perry’s character’s daughter – which she just happens to be in real life.

To my mind, the opening night performance was over the top and a bit off-balance.

Jeff Perry is Chris Christopherson, a Swede who’s spent his life as a sailor hating the sea. Now in his 50s, he’s taken a step down to be captain of a coal barge where he also lives. “The Old Davil Sea” is the force he blames for the way his life turned out.

His wife left him because he was never home, taking Anna away to her family in Minnesota. But mom dies, Dad’s at sea, so Anna (who’s changed the name to Christie) is sent to live a hard farm life with her cousins, one of whom rapes her. She runs away, following a career path from nurse’s aide for illegitimate children to prostitution itself.

O’Neill specifies the way the characters speak. For example, Chris says, “Ve drink, eh? Skoal! Ay calabrate ’cause Anna’s coming home.”

And Jeff Perry leaps in full force with the accent. He leaps in full force on everything. He’s loud, there’s a lot of table pounding, and truth to tell, I found a lot of it externally motivated, not coming from a character with an inner life.

Kevin McKidd is convincing as the powerful, na√Øve, ignorant lout Mat, the only survivor of a shipwreck, who makes it to the deck of the barge, where he finds Anna and is instantly smitten. At first convinced she’s the type of woman she actually is, he attempts to maul her sexually. She rewards him by knocking him out and back into the water.

But she persuades him that she’s a good woman, and as their relationship grows, she persuades herself that she’s reformed and worthy. I feel something quite genuine in McKidd’s portrayal. I’m less persuaded by Zoe Perry’s Anna; there’s no character development, her performance starts on the same note as it ends.

Everyone’s got secrets from everyone else. And double standards abound. In the end, Anna will triumph.

I don’t want to say this isn’t a good show. I just think that the two Perrys haven’t completely become their characters yet. Perhaps a bit of toning down and letting the characters emerge will make this rough-hewn comedic-drama more refined on stage.

No matter what I think, it’s worth your time and dime. “Anna Christie” runs through March 8 at The Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.OdysseyTheatre.com.

Antibalas and Zap Mama come to the Broad. Photo by Marina Abadjieff

SCANDAL AT GREYSTONE

“The Manor” is a play that gives you the opportunity to ogle the interior of the palatial Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, which generally isn’t open to the public.

A fictionalized version of actual events (“money, madness, murder, sex”) in a real life scandal that took place there unfolds in multiple rooms at the same time as the audience divides into groups to follow different cast members into the action.

This is the 13th year that Theatre 40 has produced “The Manor” at Greystone. Although the names have been changed, it’s the story of the oil-rich Doheny family’s tragic murder-suicide and political/financial scandal.

While intriguing at first, the evening lasts far longer than it needs to and a lot of the action could be trimmed and tightened.

It’s fun to follow the players in their period costumes and to sit in the rooms where perhaps some of these events actually occurred. But the acting is very uneven, and for a drama set in the 1920s and 30s, there’s too much “today” in the language and attitude of some of the characters.

Perhaps it’s become a theatrical institution because of the unique nature of its venue, but to me “The Manor” is merely a curiosity, not a compelling drama.

However tickets tend to sell out, so reserve now by phone (310) 694-6118 or visit www.theatre40.org.

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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