Paul Mullin's "The Sequence," currently at The Theatre @ Boston Court, chronicles the race between two scientists to map the human genome. Drawn from real-world events, this flashy and ambitious new play spotlights an important scientific breakthrough but comes up more than a few chromosomes short of a coherent drama.
"The Sequence" is told through the eyes of an eager journalist (Karri Krause) who befriends the rival scientists as they embark on their research. Craig Venter (Hugo Armstrong) is the cocky chief executive of Celera, a start-up biotech firm using an unconventional method to dissect human DNA. His chief nemesis is Francis Collins (William Salyers), who is leading the federal government's mission to map the genome by employing a more conservative approach.
The play creates a compelling dialectic between the macho Venter and the nebbishy Collins. Their scenes together are sharply executed, mapping with precision the chasm between two men who can't stand each other personally but who can respect the other's intelligence.
Unfortunately, the play concentrates more on the nosy journalist than the scientists. The reporter, who serves as an audience surrogate, offers verbose, New Age-y translations of the scientists' nerdy discourse. Her constant commentary irritates and signals a distrust in the audience's ability to comprehend even the most rudimentary aspects of genetics.
"The Sequence" splices together too many subplots and tangents, resulting in a tangled mess of a narrative that director John Langs can't begin to make clear.
The frequent reliance on multimedia visual aids is likely to wear down the viewer's already overtaxed patience.
"The Sequence," the Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 9. $32. (626) 683-6883 . Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Murder dissected in 'Porcelain'
In the art of origami, a piece of paper is folded and shaped into an object of complex yet delicate beauty. Similarly, "Porcelain," which uses origami as one of its central metaphors, refashions a murder investigation into something improbably sublime.
Always an attention-grabber, Chay Yew's 1992 drama returns in a gruesomely gorgeous staging at Celebration Theatre, directed by Michael Matthews.
As present-day London erupts into noisy life, one young man remains apart. He sits cross-legged on the ground, methodically folding origami cranes from sheets of blood-red paper. The results of his labors lie spattered around him, hinting at the same grim circumstances as the crimson splotches on the walls.
In booming, broadcast-journalist voices, four all-purpose players -- the story's Greek chorus -- relay the details of a sensational murder: In a public lavatory/notorious cruising spot, a 19-year-old man of Asian descent was witnessed cradling the bullet-riddled body of a white man.
Facts emerge from the recollections of the criminal psychologist assigned to the case (Bob Simpson, whose character has his own issues to confront).
The suspect -- the origami-maker (West Liang) -- at first defies his inquisitor. Already in his young life, he has been made to feel excluded because of his ethnicity and sexuality -- a psychological state heightened by Kurt Boetcher's set and especially by Tim Swiss' lighting, which confines Liang in downward spots of light, darkness closing in all around.
Yet, bit by bit, the young man opens up, his revelations interspersed with supplemental broadcast interviews, graphic sexual encounters and fanciful flights of folk-tale-telling. Together, these elements form an allegory about identity, isolation and censure, counterbalanced by the all-consuming power of love.
Daryl H. Miller
"Porcelain," Celebration Theatre, 7051-B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 16. $20. (323) 957-1884. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.
Feisty divas highlight 'Wings'
Noel Coward's 1960 ensemble comedy "Waiting in the Wings" is an affectionate, nostalgia-steeped epilogue to the bygone era of the stage diva. Set in a publicly funded British retirement home for once-renowned actresses who've fallen on hard times, this late-career script (admittedly not one of Coward's best) offers equal parts gentle satire and compassion as it draws on the author's real-life involvement in similar charitable efforts.
Both qualities are evident in Charlie Mount's agreeable staging for Theatre West. A sympathetic cast depicts the bickering, camaraderie and underlying desperation inherent in this final humiliating stop for the proud residents of the Wings, (comfy environs captured in Jeff G. Rack's meticulously detailed set).
Fur flies with the arrival of Lotta Bainbridge (Katherine Henryk, a classy, intelligent presence) owing to her long-standing feud with May Davenport (Magda Harout), who rules the roost.
Other plot threads propelling Coward's leisurely tale involve an effort to obtain funding to build a solarium over the home's bitterly cold terrace, a snooping journalist (Corinne Shor) bent on uncovering a scandal about the home, and the tragicomic decline of a ditsy pyromaniac (Betty Garrett, who lights up the stage in more ways than one). Under the benevolent home supervisor (Arden Lewis), the action moves toward reconciliation and stoic resignation without the surrender of dignity.
Letting the play meander at times without a firm directorial hand, Mount hasn't made a compelling case for more frequent revivals, but the show affords welcome opportunities for some feisty veteran actresses to strut their stuff.
"Waiting in the Wings," Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 23. $22-25. (323) 851-7977. Running time: 3 hours, 5 minutes.