New Theater Reviews: Cartoon, Li'l Abner, and The Brig | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

New Theater Reviews: Cartoon, Li'l Abner, and The Brig 

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Monday, Feb 11 2008

THEATER PICK  THE BRIG Kenneth H. Brown couldn’t have stumbled upon a more apt metaphor for institutional conformity than a U.S. Marine Corps jail in Japan, the setting for his 1963 play, first performed by New York’s Living Theatre. For nearly two hours we watch the robotic routines of 10 prisoners (later joined by an 11th) as they are loudly ordered about by a crew of sometimes sadistic, mostly bored guards. We don’t know the men’s names, their crimes or their thoughts — we merely follow their Kabuki-like choreography as they mop floors, smoke cigarettes and line up for chow and showers. As repetitious and ritualized as the “maggots’ ” movements are, they never become boring and it isn’t long before we get caught up in this drama of monotony. How would I get along here? we find ourselves wondering. Would we show the guards how well we’d adapt or would we rebel — or would we, like Prisoner No. 6 (Thom McGinn), find it all too much to bear? This production, directed by original cast member Tom Lillard, is a remount of a 2007 Obie-winning effort. He thoroughly brings us into Brown’s world, in which the prisoners must always stare straight ahead, navigate their cell through military about-faces and never allow their bare feet to touch the floor. Their labored breathing is the only sound they are allowed to volunteer. While virtually interchangeable, the prisoner ensemble of 11 actors performs frighteningly well, at turns morphing into a giant green caterpillar of movement. The guards are similarly faceless although Jeff Nash’s Private Tepperman exudes a cobralike menace. Julianne Elizabeth Eggold’s set is a desolate chamber of bunks, cyclone fencing and barbed wire, visually connecting Cold War brutalism with its Guantanamo legacy. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 30. (310) 477-2055. (Steven Mikulan)


Prisoners in The Brig

Some Girl(s)

Jeanine W. Stehlin

"Star Song"

GO  CARTOON Playwright Steve Yockey's dark, surreal farce takes place in a land of cartoons, where the ruler is a bratty, curly-haired little girl named Esther (Amy Mucken), who commands her citizens with judicious thumpings from a gigantic yellow hammer. Yet, when mischievous, bespectacled urchin Trouble (Nikitas Menotiades) steals Esther's hammer, chaos sweeps the world of cartoons, sparking an animated, ghoulish war that quickly turns bloody. Puppet Winston (Brian Helm) attempts to sever his marionette strings, while anime forever-best-friends Akane (Julie Terrell) and Yumi (Julie Sanchez) gradually come to murderous blows. Although the story is a none-too-subtle allegory for our own fine government under you know who, Yockey's piece also plays like an Eastern European communist-era political comedy, with farce and cruelty artfully intermingled to create horrifying situations. Director Tiger Reel oversees a fleet-footed, intricately choreographed production, whose frequent leaps from cartoony cuteness to over-the-top violence are both shocking and hilarious. The ensemble's broad mugging belies crafty undercurrents of disturbing unease and paranoia. Particularly deft and shaded turns are offered by Helm's sad-faced puppet, Winston Mucken's monster-child Esther, and Menotiades as the half-clown, half-Che Guevara-esque toon revolutionary. Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 2. (323) 908-7276. An Action! Theatre Company Production. (Paul Birchall)

This slate of one-acts runs hot and cold, undulating between the beguiling and the mundane. The mise en scéne is a domestic setting of one sort or another, a hoary bedroom or living room where high-decibel squabbles, sex, liquor, infidelity and plenty of verbal repartee are leavened with too few moments of humor and emotional connection. Some selections, however, are masterfully crafted. The heart-wrenching "The Regular Thursday Night," written and directed by Joy Bays, features the playwright as a widower so devastated by his wife's recent death and his own lacerating guilt, he can't get it on with his favorite prostitute (Stacy Cole). Joseph Gallo's "Star Song," directed by Robert Cicchini, is an ethereal slice of magic where three young girls (Vanessa Waters, Chelsea Povall, Julia Devine) try to escape their soul-killing environment. "Phyllis and Elliot, Part 1" written by Stephen Mcfeely, is a vapid exhibition of domestic conflict, with Susan Ziegler and Stephen O'Mahoney as a distraught couple. Jami Brandli's "Moon Man," directed by Jack Stehlin, contains a haunting portrait of a widow (Jill Gascoine) who turns to a mysterious stranger (Daniel Donoghue) for companionship. Hayworth Theater, 2541 Wilshire Blvd., Westlake; Tues., 8. p.m.; thru March 4. (323) 960-1054. A Circus Theatricals Production. (Lovell Estell III)

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