My astounding powers of observation helped me pick up on one subtle but important character trait as I watched Ion Theatre Company's current bash: latterday plays: During “A Gaggle of Saints,” the last of the program's three short pieces, blissful young Sue (Rachael VanWormer) somehow manages not to blink—at all—while her husband John (Brian Mackey) gleefully recalls a vicious attack he helped perpetrate on a gay guy. Her Stepfordwife gaze is just one illustration of the atrocities the characters matter-of-factly recount in these Glenn Paris-directed stories.
Mackey gets off to a slow start in “Iphigenia,” during which a Utah businessman describes his role in the death of his infant daughter— his stumblebum disposition seems contrived. But he's much better in “A Gaggle of Saints.” And VanWormer is splendid as she recalls her days as a jilted teen mom in “Medea Redux” (such irony in those dark eyes!).
The range of performance quality, however, runs second to a bigger question. Playwright Neil LaBute looks at the crimes as a normal part of the day-to-day, without much remorse from the perpetrators—but the way he frames his references to Mormonism taints the result (LaBute was a Mormon when he wrote these plays in 1999; he's since been excommunicated). There's lots to distrust about Mormonism, which I consider a cult—but there's lots to distrust about other religions, too, and LaBute's veiled barbs at a specific sect make it seem as though he's targeting Mormonism without a willingness to say so.
His purpose in writing bash just isn't that clear, and as good as most of the performances are, there's a chance you'll wonder what everybody's trying to achieve. bash: latterday plays runs through June 18 at BLK BOX @ 6th&Penn, 3704 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest. $10-$29. iontheatre.com
Native Voices: Four new plays by Native American authors center on subjects like cancer, teen pregnancy, divorce and religion. Opens June 2 at the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre on the UCSD campus. $10, $25 for all four. lajollaplayhouse.org
Foggerty's Fairy: A man gets a chance to obliterate any misdeed in his life he chooses, only to find himself dredging up more bad judgment. Produced by Talent to aMuse, it opens June 3 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. $18. talenttoamuse.com
The Music Man: Conman Harold Hill comes to River City with a scam involving a boys marching band, but things don't go according to plan. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it's in previews now and opens June 3 at the Ione and Paul Harter Stage in Coronado. $22-$58. lambsplayers.org
Swimming in the Shallows: Barb learns that Thai monks own only eight things—and she wonders if that's all she wants, even as her husband lavishes her with new clothes. Produced by InnerMission Productions, it opens June 4 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $15, $20. innermission productions.org
Much Ado about Nothing: While Beatrice and Benedick hide their in fatuation beneath witty barbs, young love blossoms as Hero and Claudio race to the altar, with the wicked Don John conspiring to break up the wedding. Now in previews, it opens June 29 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Humble Boy: Felix Humble confronts his mental and emotional deficiencies as he tries to fulfill his familial and professional responsibilities. Opens June 3 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. $7-$15. patioplayhouse.com
The Tempest: Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, conjures up a storm to help restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place. Opens in previews June 5 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
* Mamma Mia!: On the eve of her wedding, a woman's quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother's past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago. Produced by Broadway / San Diego, it runs through June 5 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. $33.50- $102.50. broadwaysd.com
* The Life of Riley: Terminally ill George Riley has deeply affected his friends' lives, and he's now plotting a final farewell that could upset their futures. Produced by The Old Globe Theatre, it runs through June 5 at The Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. $29- $67. oldglobe.org
Underground Play Festival: God, compassion and forgotten lives are among the topics explored in this two-week showcase of plays by UCSD theater undergrads. Through June 4 at the Arthur Wagner Theatre on campus. $5. theatre.ucsd.edu
Raisin' the Rent: When Papa Du found himself down on his luck at rent time, he didn't moan and groan; he just threw himself a party. Produced by the Ira Aldridge Players, it runs through June 5 at the Lafayette Hotel in North Park. $27.50 show, $45 show and dinner. iarpplayers.org
A Chorus Line: A chorus of New Yorkers have different ambitions but one goal in mind—to land a job in a Broadway show. Produced by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through June 12 at The Lyceum Theatre, Downtown. $30-$60. sandiegomusicaltheatre.com
A Dram of Drummhicit: An American entrepreneur has found the perfect Scottish island on which to build his new golf course—but as secrets are unearthed, the true nature of the island wreaks havoc. Produced by La Jolla Playhouse, it runs through June 12 at the Mandell Weiss Theatre at UCSD. $36-$59. lajollaplayhouse.org
August: Osage County: The obsolescent Violet Weston is the main culprit as her faded family chokes on its secrets, lies and deception. Through June 12 at The Old Globe Theatre mainstage in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Swingtime Canteen: This show looks at the films and personalities that defined the American consciousness during World War II. Through June 25 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. $10-$20. onstageplayhouse.org
Rounding Third: Coaches Don and Michael have very different views on their Little League team—Donald wants the kids to win, while Michael wants them to enjoy the game. Produced by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through June 25 at the Legler-Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. $10-$22. scrippsranchtheatre.org
* 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 Sept. 4 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org