During the entirety of Ion Theatre's production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Little Flower of East Orange, Trina Kaplan never stands up; she's either in a hospital bed or a wheelchair. But she stands tall as Therese Marie, the aged, dying mother of two caring but explosive grown children, Danny (Jeffrey Jones) and Justina (Catalina Maynard). By turns playful and warm, delusional and haunted, Kaplan's "Terri" is the life force of Guirgis' partly autobiographical work, directed by Ion's Glenn Paris and Claudio Raygoza (both perform as well). Little Flower, which is nearing the end of its run, is a sometimes-wrenching reminder of the bond between parent and child.
While the play is bloated with characters and subplots—Danny's drugged-out Republican girlfriend (Melinda Miller), a cool-eyed detective (Durwood Murray) trying to learn Terri's identity, a forlorn son (Paris) at his own ailing mother's hospital bedside—the central relationship between Terri and Danny is complex, conflicted and wholly believable. Terri's girlhood secret, and Danny's awareness of it, is chilling.
The Little Flower of East Orange runs through Dec. 8 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $27-$33. iontheatre.com
The words "Don't be Afraid" are scrawled on the blackboard scenery in the first couple of minutes of When Last We Flew, winding up its run at Diversionary Theatre. Turns out it's a directive for the restless characters of Harrison David Rivers' play about being judged and oppressed in Middle America at its most judgmental and oppressive. This is the second time this season Diversionary has landed in Kansas—the far-superior Harmony, Kansas preceded Rivers' play, which is directed by Colette Robert.
When Last We Flew is openly admiring of Tony Kushner's Angels in America, but nowhere near as epic. Its account of a couple of confused and truth-hungry high-schoolers is, however, earnest and articulate. Cordell Mosteller is Paul, whose refuge is the bathroom and a worn copy of Angels, and Rory Lipede is Natalie, who in her Catholic-school duds gets to travel by tornado. The flying and feathers allusions are overt, as is some of the magical realism, but When Last We Flew does elevate the mind.
It runs through Dec. 9 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $25-$51; diversionary.org.
Chicago: A Speakeasy Cabaret: A musical set in the 1920s about two murderous, fame-seeking women who wind up on death row. Ticket price includes light food and drink. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs Dec. 11 through 22 at Urbn Cntr 4the Arts (3708 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest). iontheatre.com
The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged): The Reduced Shakespeare Company cracks wise about all manner of holiday traditions. Opens Dec. 5 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. reducedshakespeare.com
A Very Merry Christmas Tale: In what sounds really wholesome, a group of friends sing songs and talk about Christmas on Christmas Eve. Presented by Visionary Musical Theatre Company, it runs Dec. 7 and 8 at Visionary Studio in La Mesa. visionarydancetheatre.org
The Weight of Matter: Part of a larger evening of "queer art and stories" called We Are Here, produced by Lotus Theatre, this staged-workshop play deals with homophobia in a Minnesota school. It opened last week and runs Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15 at the Canvass for a Cause office in Hillcrest. lotustheatrestory.com
The Little Flower of East Orange: Ion Theatre Company peels back the layers of an elderly woman's past, as told by her son, after she's found unconscious in a wheelchair in Manhattan and brought to the hospital. Through Dec. 8 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Holiday Spirits: In a Dickensian-style original by local Jim Caputo, a mysterious Realtor and three prospective home-buying couples give Ron and Laura food for thought as they go about the business of splitting up and selling their house. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Dec. 9 at the Legler-Benbough Theater at Alliant University. scrippsranchtheatre.org
When Last We Flew: A gay, black teen in small-town Kansas encounters a copy of the play Angels in America, and its effect is transformative. Through Dec. 9 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Woman in the Mirror, a Dancer's Journey: Michael Jackson impersonator Devra Gregory tells her life story as a professional dancer, from ballet to burlesque to Michael. Through Dec. 9 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lyceumevents.org
Once Upon a Wedding: Zaniness abounds during a wedding gone horribly wrong, and it does so while patrons dine aboard a boat making its way around Mission Bay, beginning at the Bahia Resort Hotel. Runs on various dates through Dec. 13. onceuponaweddingthemusical.com
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Dec. 15 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown, and then it will open again for a run from Jan. 10 through Feb. 17. lambsplayers.org
Hickorydickory: What happens when everyone has an internal "mortal" clock that ticks until death, but you can actually hear yours and you know when it's going to stop? Through Dec. 16 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
In Our Home: An original musical about a family that spends Christmas with a couple of soldiers during the Vietnam War. Through Dec. 16 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: It's the hotly anticipated world premiere of a musical, based on the 2002 album of the same name by The Flaming Lips, about a girl who must choose between two guys and—you guessed it—battle some pink robots. Through Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Persuasion: In a world-premiere adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, a woman struggles with the return of a man—once poor, now rich—whose marriage proposal she turned down years earlier. Through Dec. 22 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
A Taffeta Christmas: A successful 1950s girl group makes a triumphant return to their hometown in Indiana for a special concert. Through Dec. 23 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A mean ol' beast gets a lesson in kindness when he meets his match in Whoville. Through Dec. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
A Christmas Carole: The live radio play version of the classic tale, adapted by Cygnet Theatre's Sean Murray, is an annual tradition. Through Dec. 30 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com
Christmas on My Mind: Stranded by a snowstorm in a cabin in the woods, some travelers pass the time with singing and storytelling. Through Dec. 30 at Lamb's Players Theatre. lambsplayers.org
Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings: A holiday sequel to the oft-performed musical focused on a 1950s-style singing group that returns from the afterlife after being killed in a traffic accident. Through Dec. 30 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net