Sheri Wilner's Kingdom City is as much an homage to Arthur Miller's The Crucible as it is a penetrating comment on moral repression and censorship. The twist—that the actors portraying the characters in a production of a play become their characters and live out that play in real life—is a much-employed narrative device. But the metamorphosis sneaks up on you in Wilner's smartly written play, which is getting its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse under the direction of Jackson Gay.
When the holy-roller teens of Kingdom City, Missouri, come face to face with their ultra-liberal director and with The Crucible itself, they're eventually reborn, and not in the born-again sense. They are freed from the heavy hammer of judgment and Scripture.
Miriam, the initially reluctant director (Katie Blumberg), and her writer's-blocked husband, Daniel (Todd Weeks, Blumberg's real-life spouse), seem at first cookie-cutter New York intellectuals. They're humanized by their encounters with the kids (well played by Cristina Gerla, Austyn Myers and Katie Sapper), and, by the second act, Miriam's abrasiveness is diminished and her caring about the desperate teens becomes believable and affecting. All the while—and here's where Wilner's craftsmanship shines—flashes of The Crucible illuminate the story.
For Kingdom City, the Playhouse's Potiker Theatre is configured with seats on both sides and the action in the middle. While this makes it more difficult to see, it does give the setting a congregational feel and, more importantly, brings the actors closer. Amen to that.
Kingdom City runs through Oct. 5 at La Jolla Playhouse. $15 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
North Coast Repertory Theatre's staging of Fallen Angels, Noël Coward's drawing-room romp about a couple of bored London wives in heat, must be a comedy of its time (it opened in 1925), because it just isn't that funny today. Deadliest is a long first-act sequence in which chums Julia (Joanna Strapp) and Jane (Summer Spiro) are getting gradually crocked over supper. They're drinking, but they're also sitting—much too much. Perhaps as it was in '25, the household maid, Saunders (Jacquelyn Ritz), walks away with the show.
Fallen Angels runs through Oct. 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $37 and up. northcoastrep.org
A Discourse on the Wonders of the Invisible World: A young woman returns to Salem 10 years after the Witch Trials, but she's not the only interesting newcomer. Opens Sept. 18 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Big Kitchen the Musical: This is a preview of a work in progress that pays tribute to Judy "The Beauty" Forman, the colorful proprietor of the Big Kitchen restaurant in South Park. A $10 donation is suggested. It happens Sept. 22 at the Big Kitchen. Facebook link.
Kinky Boots: Based on the 2005 film of the same name, this musical tells the tale of a young man who saves his father's dying shoe factory by having it turn out footwear for drag performers. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs Sept. 23 through 28 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Rothschild and Sons: A musical that chronicles the rise of Mayer Rothschild, an 18th-century businessman and German Jew, who, with his sons, helped fund the fight against Napoleon and sought enhanced civil rights for Jewish people. Runs Sept. 22 and 23 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org/season/offnights.html
Scott Joplin's New Rag: In a world premiere, Robert Barry Fleming, who wrote the script, performs a one-person play about ragtime composer Scott Joplin. Presented by Mo'olelo Performing Arts Company, it opens Sept. 18 at the 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village. moolelo.net
Dearly Beloved: A trio of Texas sisters plan a wedding. Will it be Antebellum-themed? Will it be a big ol' barbecue? Will it go off at all? Through Sept. 21 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Legends (in ten minutes or less): The cast in this evening of seven very short plays includes CityBeat editor David Rolland, and dessert is included in the ticket price. Presented by New Play Café, it runs through Sept. 21 on the back patio of DeMi Café Café in University Heights. newplaycafe.com
The Odd Couple: The classic comedy goes Latino, courtesy of Paul Rodriguez and Mike Gomez. Presented by Teatro Máscara Mágica, it runs through Sept. 21 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. teatromascaramagica.org
Passage into Fear: It's 1917 and a woman claiming knowledge of a plot with international ramifications goes missing on a passenger train. Presented by Art Animates Life and the San Marcos Historical Society, it runs through Sept. 21 in Connors Hall at Heritage Park in San Marcos. carrfamily.com/aal
Regrets Only: A knee-slapping comedy about a gay fashion designer who challenges a straight acquaintance who happens to be advising President Bush on the ban on gay marriage. Through Sept. 21 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Catch Me If You Can: A musical version of the 2002 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, about a young con man and the FBI agent who pursues him. Through Sept. 27 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Fallen Angels: In Noël Coward's 1925 farce, two women stuck in boring marriages anticipate the impending arrival of a passionate man whom both dated before they were married. Through Oct. 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
I am My Own Wife: One person takes on 35 roles in an award-winning play about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transgendered German antiquities collector whose early life was lived during the Third Reich. Presented by The New Group West, it runs through Sept. 28 at 10th Avenue Arts Center in East Village. thenewgroupwest.com
Les Miserables: In this classic musical, a poor Frenchman spends 19 years in prison after stealing a loaf of bread, only to escape and get caught up in a revolution under an assumed identity. Through Sept. 28 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
Our Town: Thornton Wilder's classic story about life and death in the fictional town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. Through Sept. 28 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.org
The Pianist of Willesden Lane: Actor and pianist Mona Golabek tells the story of a 14-year-old music prodigy whose promising career is imperiled by war in Europe in 1938. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Sept. 28 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Red Planet Respite: In this original sci-fi farce, it's 2044 and a crew is heading to Mars to prepare a luxury resort. On the way there, things get weird. Presented by Circle Circle Dot Dot, it runs through Sept. 28 at La Jolla Playhouse. circle2dot2.com
Kingdom City: A world-premiere play about a New York theater director who stirs things up in a small, conservative Missouri town when she directs a high-school production of The Crucible. Through Oct. 5 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Postmortem: It's 1922, and an actor famous for playing Sherlock Holmes has reassembled a group of people who were present a year earlier when someone allegedly committed suicide. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through Oct. 5 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Race: In David Mamet's play, a white businessman is accused of raping a black woman, and his law firm turns to a black, female attorney for guidance. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Oct. 5 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
Shaken Not Stirred: A plain librarian's world is rocked when two men in black move in next door. Through Oct. 5 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
This Wide Night: Two women, former cellmates, have been released from prison and now must navigate a challenging life of freedom in London. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Oct. 11 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Corpse!: In London in 1936, a woman plots with a man to murder his wealthy twin brother. Through Oct. 12 at PowPAC in Poway. powpac.org
Bright Star: A world-premiere musical by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell about a soldier who returns home to North Carolina from World War II, hooks up with a literary-journal editor and, with her, discovers a life-changing secret. Through Nov. 2 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.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