Swedish “Juliet” at SCFTA, “Marat/Sade” in Long Beach, Feydeau in Fullerton

The surprise highlight of a busy theatre weekend was courtesy of a choreographer who’s not afraid to break with convention and do the unpredictable—namely Mats Ek of the Royal Swedish Ballet. His “Juliet & Romeo” (at Segerstrom Center for the Arts) delivered the unexpected at every turn—bold, economic, wildly original and slyly humorous at times.

Ema Yuasa (Juliet) and Marie Lindqvist (the Nurse) were a delight, but the high point had to be Clyde Emmanuel Archer’s (Mercutio) bare-chested tutu-clad solo, giving full reign to the character’s defiant spirit. RSB’s first visit to SCFTA in 16 years was a decided triumph; hopefully they won’t wait that long to return. Meanwhile, the Center’s celebratory “Tour de Force III” (Aug. 27) brings back such acclaimed dancers as Diana Vishneva, Natalia Osipova and Marcelo Gomes, to name just three virtuosos who have lit up the stage on previous visits.

If Juliet & Romeo’s romantic encounters were pure poetry in the hands of Mats Ek, the simulated sex is much more graphic in Peter Weiss’ avant-garde “Marat/Sade” (in the Studio at Long Beach Playhouse through July 9). But what else should we expect of a show that asks the question, “What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?”

This overtly theatrical, rarely-staged play (for the record, the full title is “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade”) has a lot more than sex on its mind, though—including war, class struggle and social violence. It’s play-within-a-play set in an institution, as the title suggests, a pageant about the last days of French patriot Marat in the chaotic aftermath of the French Revolution.

Noah Wagner makes a strong visual impression as the infamous Sade, and conveys his vulnerability in an unexpected moment. Mark Bowen offers a good contrast as Marat; Liz Waite shines as the inmate playing Charlotte Corday, the delusional country girl who holds his fate in her hands. Lorne Stevenson and Melissa Donn stand out among the capable ensemble cast, under the attentive direction of Andrew Vonderschmitt. Donna Fritsche’s costumes are evocative.

Sixteen actors playing fourteen characters, four doors (five counting an armoire) and a lot of furious scurrying about could only be a recipe for a French sex farce. Georges Feydeau’s “An Absolute Turkey,” adapted from “Le Dindon” by Nicki Frei and Peter Hall (at Fullerton’s STAGES through Jul. 17) promises pretty much what one expects—horny Pontagnac in pursuit of virtuous Lucienne, who agrees to cuckold her husband if given proof of his unthinkable infidelity.

There are inspired moments of frantic physical comedy superbly executed under Shawn Brewer’s direction—chief among them a harried set change performed to the accompaniment of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Andrea Birkholm’s colorful costumes and Michael J. Keeney’s fight choreography add to the hilarity.

However, a number of the actors lack the necessary subtlety to cook the soufflé to perfection, and much of it falls flat. Some, including Erica Jackson (Lucienne), Amy Lauren Gettys and Lucy Abel, apply just the right touch. Others, notably Zachary Salene (Pontagnac), are overly broad. Farce is a delicate balance to be sure. Trust the material and you’ll likely succeed; goose it for a few extra laughs and you’ll probably fall on your face.

Cinecon classic filmfest, restored film noirs, new documentaries

Ann Sheridan in “Woman on the Run” (1950)
Ann Sheridan in “Woman on the Run” (1950)

There’s been some concern about the annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival —the wonderful conclave of rare early cinema held Labor Day Weekend in Hollywood—with the untimely passing this week of its president, film historian Bob Birchard. The festival has also faced a financial challenge of late. However, “Cinecon is all set and ready to go,” his colleague Stan Taffel assures us, and will be dedicated to Birchard this year.

Registrations for Cinecon are currently being accepted. Screenings will take place as usual at the historic Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. Perhaps the most widely anticipated film is the newly restored “King of Jazz” (1930) with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, in glorious two-strip Technicolor.

UCLA Film & Television Archive, another major player in preserving our cinematic past, is enjoying enhanced visibility with a pair of recent restorations. Two lost film noirs, “Too Late For Tears” and “Woman on the Run,” are newly available in Blu-ray/DVD dual-format editions from Flicker Alley; the releases represent the first collaboration between the video company and the Film Noir Foundation, which spearheaded the restorations.

“Too Late For Tears” (1949) and “Woman on the Run” (1950) are terrific if forgotten gems, and both provide great roles for women. The former, filmed in L.A., stars femme fatale Lizabeth Scott as a housewife who has $60,000 fall into her lap, doesn’t care where it came from and will do anything to keep it. The latter, shot in San Francisco, features World War II pin-up girl Ann Sheridan as a lady bored with her husband, who takes it on the lam after witnessing a gangland murder. Both releases include fascinating making-of mini-docs and audio commentaries.

Olympic torch bearers are an ancient tradition, right? Actually, they were invented for the broadcast age, when the 1936 Berlin Olympics was televised. This is but one of many revelations in “Dreams Rewired” (available from Icarus Films on DVD and VOD), a clever but flawed documentary by Manu Luksch, Martin Reinhart & Thomas Tode that uses archival footage culled from the 1880s to the 1930s to show us how technology came about, insinuated itself into our daily lives and devoured us whole.

Pegi Vail’s vivid doc film “Gringo Trails” (also available from Icarus) takes us from the Bolivian jungle to Thailand’s party beaches to show us how tourism is altering and endangering the planet at a much faster pace than we might have imagined. If we’re not alarmed at the rapid diminishing of species like the Anaconda snake, we should be. “The world is open to us as it’s never been before,” as travel writer Pico Iyer tells us, but it’s also more susceptible than ever with tourists descending like locusts on once pristine locales.

Janina Quint’s “Germans and Jews” (debuting theatrically in New York this month, from First Run Features) takes us to today’s Berlin, which surprisingly has the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe, nearly 250,000—many of them emigrants from Russia. A cross-section of talking heads allows us to have the conversation we’d like to have about the phenomenon, asking questions we might not dare to ask. Postwar and present-day anti-Semitism is addressed, and one Jewish resident tells us he feels safer living in Germany now than he would in Israel.