By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The play’s question here becomes, What is Richard really up to? Is he the whale-spirit-prophet that he appears, like some Ashcroftian Holy Roller, or is he faking it as part of a calculation, concocted with the Queen, to emerge from the whale pretendingto be a prophet so he can nudge the King toward participating in a national Democratic assembly and thereby forestall revolution? Jacobson reiterates that scheme, that plot point, at least twice in the play. (“Within mere days, he’ll have his conscience pricked./When all of France believes he’s on the verge/Of calling the assembly, he’ll emerge/To meet their expectation and proclaim/A policy to set their hearts aflame”), yet with each repetition it makes no more sense. Though it’s far-fetched (okay, after you cut me out of the whale’s belly, I’ll pretend to be blind), that’s not the problem: Goofy contrivances also populate You Can’t Take It With Youand Merton of the Moviesto no ill effect.Rather, the intricate mechanics of Marie’s plotting and planning clash with the play’s mythic surrealism. Some local critics have been baffled by the play, not because they’re stupid or want only kitchen realism, but because Jacobson employs two conflicting theatrical languages. It’s as though he’s trying to graft the kind of farcical scheming you’ll find in Molière (Spermself-consciously riffs on Tartuffe) onto the absurdist trunk of a play by Ionesco or Albee. One is grounded in logic, the other in its opposite. Jacobson can’t have it both ways, and he doesn’t.
If Sperm were to speak in a single theatrical language, Jacobson’s expansive world of ideas would seem less diffuse. Whether Richard is a prophet or a fraud and, consequently, whether or not the fawning King is a dupe forms the play’s Tartuffe-like centerpiece. When the King proclaims that his own faith has made Richard a prophet, we’re back on our own Capitol Hill, with history invented by a king through his hot line to God — a full-frontal attack on the Enlightenment.
Jacobson’s ample wit fills the wide and cavernous stage. Anzide’s foppish Louis sparkles with a kind of bubbly skepticism — if Richard is merely playing the prophet, Louis is certainly only acting the dupe. Watkins’ petite, tightly coiled Marie Antoinette spits out little sarcasms as the embodiment of drollery. It’s remarkable how charming she is, given her little glued-on smile. Sarah Hartmann fleshes out the large, vivacious ensemble as resident nun-abortionist Sister Louise.
The details of Louis and Marie Antoinette’s fate in Spermtake huge liberties with recorded annals. Both the royal couple, and their author, keep toying with events, reinventing history, or trying to. Whether or not any story is a reduction of or an expansion upon the events of life depends on the quality and purpose of the lies. Jacobson is an excellent and poetical liar — the best kind — and his play opens a small window onto the shape of despair born of greed and neglect.
SPERM | By TOM JACOBSON | Presented by
CIRCLE X THEATER COMPANY at the 24th STREET THEATER, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles Through April 17 | (323) 461-6069