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 man with whom Margaret winds up having an adulterous affair, Philip (K.C. Marsh), is a guilt-ridden Lutheran minister from Chicago, accompanied by Catherine, his mentally unstable wife, who’s unable to bear children and has just been turned down for adoption. (She’s in Italy to study enamels.) Christ puts in an appearance (Josh Gordon, in one of 12 quick-change roles) as the devil in disguise. Themes of sin, sacrifice, guilt and redemption adorn the play.
Jacobson’s works are both erudite and very, very clever — a cleverness that can sometimes be his undoing, their being more clever than soulful. He’s our local Tom Stoppard but with a penchant for surrealism.
Jacobson’s cleverest trick is to snag his couples in a twilight-zone time glitch. In their five-city tour from Rome to Milan, Margaret and Tor keeping bumping into Catherine and Philip, who at first, mysteriously, seem to know far too much about them. In Scene 1, Philip keeps referring — confessing — to an affair he’s had with astonished Margaret, who insists she’s never seen him in her life. This is because, in a metaphysical quirk, Catherine and Philip are actually traveling in the opposite direction as Margaret and Tor — from Milan to Rome. By the time Margaret and Tor get to Milan in Scene 5, they meet Catherine and Philip as they’re just starting their Italian adventure — stunned that Margaret and Tor know so much about them — the inverse of Scene 1. For the audience, the resolution of this perfectly symmetrical play of opposites and inversions comes in the middle — Scene 3 (Florence) — where both couples temporarily occupy the same time zone.
Meanwhile, Jacobson keeps toying with opposites. At the end of Scene 1, in a labyrinth vault, the ground swallows up Philip, while his deranged wife is left scraping at concrete with her fingernails trying to find him. When we get to Scene 5, Margaret leaps from a banister and floats above Milan. At play’s start, Philip (at the end of his journey) begs Margaret not to go to Milan. In Scene 5, Margaret, at the end of her journey, makes precisely the opposite appeal, that Philip must see Rome.
None of this is letting the cat out of any bag: The subtitle of the play that follows Margaret and Tor from Rome to Milan is called A Nun’s Tale. On alternate weekends, Ouroborosis played with the scenes inverted, subtitled A Priest’s Tale,following Catherine and Philip from Milan to Rome. So one way or another, one play or another, you’re going to know at least one of the endings after the first scene. This isn’t a drama about suspense, it’s a mystery about balance. As Catherine points out in a Florence cathedral, “Notice the symmetry of the four large devils, north, south, east and west. I’ve forgotten their names, probably Asmodeus, Beelzebub — but the interesting thing is the symmetry.” Structure meets theme in Jacobson’s play. It’s like watching a fresco by Raphael come to life.
Michael Michetti’s tender direction accents the actors’ cheerfully wry intelligence that floats over and then dips into their agonies. When Bloom’s Catherine collapses with an emotional seizure in Siena after viewing St. Catherine’s mummified head, Marsh’s kindly desperate Philip tries to calm her by having her pray. “Good,” he says. “Jesus will be here with you while I go get a cab. Then we’ll go back to the hotel and watch CNN.” This is Philip’s unwittingly ludicrous version of comfort: that network news will provide a happy escape from the harsher realities of Medieval relics.
Desma Murphy’s multilevel Byzantine set, with its suggestions of arches and a nave ceiling, plays beautifully with Jeremy Pivnick’s cinematic lighting design and David B. Marling’s seductively haunting neo-Gregorian sound transitions.
When political conversation fails to converse, the arts drift toward theology for some comprehension of what, on Earth, we’re doing. The nihilistic Dada art movement was born from the chaos of World War I. The Theater of the Absurd emerged from the paralyzing terror of the atomic bomb —movements that openly questioned the capacities of reason and language when God’s throne sits so evidently vacant.
Ouroboros, however, skirts nihilism, existentialism and postmodernism. It’s as comforting as a priest who believes. The play is back there with Galileo, looking with wonder at the paths of the stars and relishing the beauty of the trails they reveal. The play screams from inside out, and outside in, that the shape of things is orderly and symmetrical, that there really is a Guiding Hand. As theological dramas go, it’s about as optimistic as any contemporary playwright can reasonably get away with. In the stench of an election year, its perspective is as fresh as an ocean breeze.OUROBOROS | By TOM JACOBSON | Presented by ROAD THEATER COMPANY, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood | Call (818) 761-8829 | Through October 23