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
Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, inspired by a Norwegian folk figure, was perhaps the first slacker, an indolent son of the industrial revolution whose romantic revolt against the machine and Scandinavian conformity led him to dream big and talk bigger, but whose moral anemia unerringly led him to the path of least resistance. He also matured, we might say, into a world-class coaster, sliding through life by doing as little original thinking as possible. As Peer wanders the planet, he fathers a bastard; almost marries a troll; becomes a slave trader and an arms dealer — all while Solveig, the one noble woman in his life, patiently awaits his return to Norway.
Caliban’s angry high school grad Peter Gibbs (the son of Our Town’s Dr. Gibbs, played by Stephen Alan Carver) likewise goes forth seeking skirts and gold, but everyone around him is so unrelentingly misanthropic and mirthlessly vile that another title for the play might be Down With People. Paradoxically, for all its iconoclastic swagger, the play doesn’t challenge the audience to question any assumptions about itself. At one point Peter drifts into televangelism, which we are assumed to equate with the nadir of human activity. But why not decamp from that caricature and make Peter an evil version of someone most of us admire? (Say, a corrupt NGO aid worker or free-clinic volunteer?) Caliban also drains Ibsen’s story of its redemptive properties by making Peter’s mother, Aase (Gabby Sanalitro), a selfish harridan who wears a black PVC bra, and by changing Peer’s euthanasic lullaby at her deathbed into a throwaway moment of sputtering anger. Likewise, Peter’s late-life reunion with Solveig is skewed so that her litany of Peter’s good qualities does not reprieve him from the damnation threatened by the Button Molder (Dan Wingard).
In the end, however, it’s not to A Vast Wreck’s detriment that Ibsen’s play has been subverted, but that Caliban hasn’t found anything to put in the place of its poetic heart. Instead of a personal odyssey, this is merely a play that wanders down the shock corridor of teen violence, menstrual-blood art and nasty habits. What Caliban forgets is that in today’s world, the only thing that can shock is subtlety.?
FAREWELL, MISS COTTON | By KEITH JOSEF ADKINS | At the BLACK DAHLIA THEATER, 5453 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles | Through March 26 | (323) 525-0070
A VAST WRECK | By RICHARD CALIBAN | At THEATER OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood | Through March 18 | (323) 856-8611