Cast members of Play Without Words(Photo © Sheila Burnet)
Cast members of Play Without Words
(Photo © Sheila Burnet)
Theater-loving Angelinos don't know whether to laugh or cry when hearing a ridiculous sound byte that is frequently bandied about. To wit: "There isn't much theatre in L.A." Nothing could be further from the truth. Even for one of most prolific theatre hubs in the nation, L.A.'s April downpour of promising openings is shaping up as one of the busiest ever.

Any month that includes a new Matthew Bourne dance drama based on a classic film automatically qualifies as something special. Play Without Words (Ahmanson Theatre, opening April 11) -- devised, directed, and choreographed by Bourne, with an original jazz score by Terry Davies -- is based on director Joseph Losey's revered 1963 film The Servant, written by renowned playwright Harold Pinter. In a suave London residence, an urbane master and his beautiful fiancée have no clue how intensely their lives will be changed due to the hiring of a new manservant. Sleek and seductive, this homoerotic cat-and-mouse game promises something quite different from the British wunderkind Bourne, who triumphed with such ballet-based treats as Swan Lake and Cinderella and his fine modern dance piece, Car Man.

Several other productions suggest blockbuster potential. Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece, Mourning Becomes Electra (Glendale's A Noise Within, opening April 8), receives its first local production in many years, directed by ANW's venerable team of Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott. The trilogy of works, adding up to a marathon evening, takes place at the Mannion family's New England estate in 1865. The story loosely parallels Aeschylus' tragedy The Orestia. Another classic, the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill watershed musical The Threepenny Opera (Hollywood's Open Fist Theatre, opening April 30), was first produced in 1928 Berlin. It's a provocative portrait of the underbelly of early Victorian times, equipped with perpetual resonance and that unforgettable song "Mack the Knife." There's also much anticipation for the Blank Theatre Company's staging of Amy and David Sedaris' quirky The Book of Liz (Hollywood's 2nd Stage Theatre, opening April 30). Darin Anthony has rounded up a stellar cast for what has been described as an Amish picaresque about a nun who abandons her vocation of making cheese balls to venture out into the world. Appearing are Ann Magnuson as the "Squeamish" Sister Elizabeth, Suan Ruttan (LA Law), Mike Genovese, and Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Renowned L.A. playwright Luis Alfaro unveils his latest theatrical bombshell, Electricidad (Mark Taper Forum, opening April 7), telling Sophocles' Electra legend in the setting of a contemporary Latino barrio in L.A.

Beyond these headliners, there's a wide array of additional tantalizing offerings. A unique new concept -- lunch-hour theatre -- served up by the debuting TheatExpresso kicked off at the Pacific Center in downtown L.A. on March 31with George Shohet's farce A Suthern Proposal, based on Anton Chekhov's The Marriage Proposal. A short play and a prix-fixe lunch at an affordable price are meant to provide busy working professionals with a refreshing midday break. Joe Cacaci's world premiere drama Questa (West Hollywood's Court Theatre, opening April 8) explores the lives of seven people in Manhattan brought together in the aftermath of a violent crime. It stars Dorian Harewood, Dan Lauria, and Wendy Malick. Another world-premiere drama, Climbing Everest, by Margit Ahlin (Burbank's Colony Theatre, opening April 9) is a story of one woman's quest to overcome family tragedy and bring some peace to her shattered life atop the world's tallest and deadliest mountain. Other promising dramas include the double bill of Gum (a violent fairy tale) and The Mother of Modern Censorship, about an office power play, both by Karen Hartman (Workshop 360 at Santa Monica's Powerhouse Theatre, opening April 15); Phinneas Kiyomura's reportedly provocative failed-relationship tale Lydia in Bed (Hollywood's Theatre of Note, opening April 29); and Tea (Long Beach's International City Theatre, opening April 29), Velina Hasu Houston's prize-winning piece about Japanese war brides who find themselves in Kansas.

For those who prefer tragedy tomorrow and comedy tonight, there's a lot to choose from. Geffen Playhouse, in its temporary Brentwood Theatre home, revives the vintage Kaufman and Hart comedy You Can't Take It With You (opening April 20), directed by Chris Hart. Terrence McNally's venerable gays-meet-straights comedy Lips Together, Teeth Apart (North Hollywood's Secret Rose Theatre, opening April 15) tells about hell breaking loose during a 4th of July weekend on Fire Island. The classics-based Circus Theatricals presents Molière's The Misanthrope (L.A.'s Odyssey Theatre, opening April 16), directed by and starring Jack Stehlin. There's more Molière, in a less traditional vein, from Andak Company's San Fran Scapin (North Hollywood's NewPlace Theatre, opening April 20), a Barbary Coast version of commedia dell-arte farce. Expect sardonic humor in Jeremy Kehoe's Killing Russell Crowe (Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre in North Hollywood, opening April 9), about a broken-down greeting-card writer whose dreams of social revolution suddenly spring to life. American Dreams: An In-Yer Face Musical (North Hollywood's Eclectic Company Theatre) takes a darkly satiric look at American lives in the new century. Book and lyrics are by William Whitehurst, with music by Robert Gross.

Musicals in a more traditional vein arrive courtesy of Musical Theatre Guild's staged reading of a Noël Coward classic, Sail Away (opening April 11 at Glendale's Alex Theatre, followed by stops at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on April 24 and Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach on April 25). There's also Stefanie Powers in a The King and I tour (Hollywood's Pantages Theatre, opening April 5) and a new battle-of-the-sexes tuner, The Thing About Men (Musical Theatre West at Long Beach's Carpenter Performing Arts Center, opening April 16), from the creators of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.