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Theater Reviews: Pirates & Ninjas, A Matter of Honor 

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Tuesday, Sep 4 2007
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PIRATES & NINJAS Arrrrgh. Yarrrr. Keep those frayed trousers swashbuckled. Just ignore the masked figures in black, scaling the walls like cockroaches. A gymnastic theatricality weaves three one-acts into a clown show with live music — all spun from comic book/video game depictions of . . . you guessed it (if not, go back to the title). This is like Cirque du Soleil on a yard-sale budget. Audience members get their choice of eye patch or head band; the program comes with a booklet of origins and puzzles that would prove a handy diversion for any air flight. There’s even a pre-show gallery that strives to add context and/or heft to the production’s violent warrior myths emanating respectively from the West and the East. Writer-director Maria DeLuca’s “Pirates & Ninjians” concerns a Pirate Captain (Drew Howerton) who tells the story of a sea voyage (visually accentuated by cardboard waves that Ninjas hold near his face) in which he was abandoned by his crew. He awakens from delirium to find himself fact to face with Christopher Columbus (Robert Baker). Columbus closes the play with an homage to the land of freedom. Perhaps they’re confusing him with somebody else, since Columbus’ purpose was to claim territories for Spain, but let’s just fob that off to some combination of whimsy and revisionist history. Eva Anderson’s “The Orb of the Seven Dragons” (directed by DeLuca) is a quasi-interactive story about surviving the world’s aggressions. The Character (Andrew Culver) faces an ongoing series of violent Ninja threats, from which he (or we) must extricate himself by selecting one of several book pages to turn to, or so the Narrator (Robert Baker) tells us in Anderson’s meta-literary romp, which careens forward regardless, without our input. This makes the interaction something of a ruse, which may or may not be the point. Things fall more clearly into place in writer-director Lissa Sherman’s “Pirates and Ninjas,” about a Pirate (Daniel Gallai) renting a room next door to a “faceless” Ninja (Aly Zelenko). Their parallel lives, their hopes and despondencies, mostly depicted through non-verbal clowning, play themselves out with vivacious hilarity (watching Gallai roar with laughter at some unseen TV show contains a Chaplin-esque blend of a comedy and pathos). His pirate friends (Howerton, Culver and John Robinson) sometimes keep him company in his slovenly abode, where they all roar and growl and prance, as pirates must. But when our hero confesses that he’s lonely (one of the few lines of dialogue), his pals leave baffled and annoyed, since “we’re here almost every day.” Meanwhile the invisible Ninja across the hall suffers a parallel despair of purpose and identity — despite (or because of) the visitations of sexy women (Jessica Zelenko and Jessie Dereks). This playlet captures at least hints of how cartoons from the West and the East serve similar purposes — the cultures’ need for vicarious brutality, the faux heroism and the universal plight of caricatures searching for character. The first two plays spin this company’s wild theatricality in circles, whereas the final play actually goes somewhere significant, which is why the evening feels two-thirds more inventive and promising than satisfying. The Blue House Theater Co. & Big Mama Farm Productions at THEATRE OF NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; thru Sept. 22 (added perf Sept. 15, mid.). (866) 219-4944. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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