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The Plays of Summer: 3 Shows on the Boards Right Now

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LA's theater season doesn't take a summer vacation, as new productions keep popping up all over town. Here's a round-up of three just-opened shows we caught last week in three different neighborhoods.

"The Psychic Life of Savages" @ LATC
For its inaugural production, the Savage Players theater company has chosen to mount Amy Freed's 1995 play "The Psychic Life of Savages," a fantasized riff on the lives of four mid-20th century poets as well as the ghost of Emily Dickinson who pays them nighttime inspirational visits. Though surnames have been changed, the central characters are easily recognizable as Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton.

Freed was certainly ambitious not only in re-imagining these strong personalities, but also in writing entirely new poems that they deliver as their own. The strength of this production, too, is its effective evocation of the historical period, several decades ago, when poets commanded public attention as popular artists and cultural figures.

Most of the actors on stage at the Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown gamely make a run at sustaining interest in the development of their characters and the shifting relations between them, but the self-indulgent crises and dilemmas of Freed's poets aren't compelling enough to justify two-plus hours of it all.

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"Hearts Like Fists" @Theatre of NOTE
Prolific young New York playwright Adam Szymkowicz's new comic book action hero parody/homage "Hearts Like Fists" is having its world premiere run all this month at Hollywood's Theatre of NOTE. The evil Dr. X is on a murderous rampage, breaking into the apartments of sleeping couples all over the city and injecting them with a heart-stopping poison. It's gotten so bad that lovers are even afraid to go home and spend the night together. Determined to thwart him are a trio of romantically unattached women who work as nurses by day, but assume the identity of masked superhero crimefighters at night.

Meanwhile, chronic heartbreaker Lisa has developed a crush on the perennially heartbroken young doctor Peter, who is on the verge of inventing a surgically implantable artificial heart that would be immune to Dr. X's deadly venom. But will she just end up leaving and devastating him, as both of their personal histories would presage? Or will he turn the tables on her? Or something else?

The dominant tone here is that of the campy 1960s TV "Batman" series, complete with impressively complex high-octane pow! bam! fight sequences, choreographed by Andrew Amani. The script could stand to lose a few of the countless descriptions of lovelorn woe that slow it down every scene or two, but director Jaime Robledo usually manages to pick the pace back up before too long. And Keith Allan is perfectly brilliant throughout as the classic comic book villain Dr. X.

"Down & Dirty" @Zombie Joe's Underground

If its length were chopped to an hour, a wacky play like "Hearts Like Fists" would probably be right up the alley of LA's inimitably outrageous theater company, Zombie Joe's Underground in North Hollywood. The company's new 11:00 Saturday night show, "Down & Dirty," though, is an only slightly vamped-up sequence of ten song and dance numbers, mostly Kander & Ebb classics, interspersed with amusing comic vignettes.

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Only one of the songs is staged with the kind of creepiness that ZJU has established as its stock in trade. In the Andy Razaf standard "Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You?" chanteuse Gracy Ramirez performs a sexy domestic striptease for an unseen husband or boyfriend implicitly seated among us in the audience. But as each article of clothing is removed, we also can't help noticing a new bruise or other inflicted wound which the singer herself doesn't even bother to acknowledge.

Frequent denizens of Zombie's dark black box on Lankershim will have a good enough time at "Down and Dirty" (don't we always?), but this one isn't really down and dirty enough to introduce the company to any prospective first-timers considering a plunge.

"The Psychic Life of Savages," directed by Angie Scott and Nate Edelman, plays tonight and tomorrow night and Monday through Thursday night next week at 8 p.m. Full-price tickets $22 and $17, $12 tickets available via LA Stage Tix (except Thursdays).

"Hearts Like Fists" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 7 through September 1. Full-price tickets $26.87 and $21.69, $16.50 tickets available for some performances via LA Stage Tix.

"Down & Dirty," directed by Vanessa Cate with choreography by Natalie Hyde, runs through September 15. $15 ticket reservations available by calling (818) 202-4120.