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10 Memorable Moments On The Local Stage 

Thursday, Dec 23 2004
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Photo by Steve Gunther

1. Francesco Vitali as Hamlet at the Tamarind Theater in what must be the vanity show of the decade. Budgeted by Vitali and his "investors" in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the production closed after two performances with a native Greek who couldn’t remember his lines as the Danish prince and, when he could, rendered them incomprehensibly. Director Aaron Mullen appeared to be at the edge of lunacy, while the supporting cast was literally banking on the good graces of George Clooney, who showed up to videotape rehearsals of the debacle for a television series.

2. Francesco Vitali as Hamlet at the Tamarind Theater. (See No. 1.)

Joe Fria

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3. Bravest performance: Jacqueline Wright in her own play Eat Me — a member rental at Theater of NOTE that transferred to the McCadden Place Theater. Wright portrayed a rape victim who, after having swallowed a bucket of pills in a suicide attempt, was forced to perform fellatio in a scene that re-defined the term "in-your-face theater." Wright’s character then apologized for upchucking all over her attacker. One night, the theater sent out an e-mail apology for having used packaged barf that was, evidently, left over from the night before and was therefore reeking. Prop masters: If you’re going to use real vomit, please be sure it’s fresh.

4. Liz Pocock’s hyperactive professor in Ionesco’s The Lesson, at City Garage. What is generally a symbol of male authority here became an insane, lisping, sweat-coated, contortion-filled emblem of female dominance. She was so over the top at play’s start, you couldn’t imagine how she could go anywhere at all. Then for over an hour, she just kept going further into a slapstick so broad, she melded into a living cartoon.

5. Arye Gross’ hypochondriac suitor in Anton Chekhov’s one-act The Proposal, presented by Antaeus Theater Company. A petty argument with the woman to whom he was proposing led to an ebb and flow of rage and heart palpitations that soon had Gross literally bouncing off the furniture.

6. Joe Fria as a dog in Michael Franco’s adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Heart of a Dog. With the help of a mask, this was the most persuasive transformation of the year from man to beast. The way he hung his head, details in the gestures of snuggling, explosions of happiness, of bewilderment yielding to terror. This dog’s heart was beating on the stage.

7. Stephen Dillane’s one-man rendition of Macbeth at the REDCAT. Not just the character, the entire blasted play: Duncan, Lady M, Weird Sisters, the whole kit and caboodle, all spun out as effortlessly as a Scottish kilt in a Glasgow textile factory.

8. Alan Mandell in The Royal Family at the Ahmanson. The play’s homage to theater wore me out, but Mandell’s butler wore me out for completely different reasons: My legs were wobbly just watching the old guy bounce up and down that huge circular stairwell like a pingpong ball.

9. Loretta Devine’s diva, Ma Rainey, in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Lillian Theater. Dripping in a wry sarcasm and narcissism, Devine’s Ma shone in one of those "intimate theater" productions that has chops equal to anything on the big stages.

10. Tonya Pinkins’ maid in Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change at the Ahmanson. How many layers exist between despondency and rage? She found ’em all.

Reach the writer at smorris@laweekly.com

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