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
Yael Pardess’ set design includes screens that allow romantic Brazilian images to wash over us — and moving shots from the rear of an Ipanema cab place us in a kind of ride-film — perhaps a shrewd attempt by director Sheldon Epps to distract us from the lack of any serious investigation unfolding onstage.
At intermission, a teenager sitting between his parents in the row behind me, was shaking his head. “It’s just kind of overwritten,” he told them. “And overacted.” That sounded truer to me than almost anything I’d heard in the theater to that point.
For reasons she chooses not to explain, director-adapter Amanda Marquardt (with Adam Neubauer) stages excerpts from every death scene sifted from Shakespeare’s canon — and there are a lot of them. The piece is called Not to Be, now at Zombie Joe’s Underground in North Hollywood. It’s a romp, a macabre variation of what the Reduced Shakespeare Company does with perhaps more craft but no less humor. Nine barefoot actors in jeans and white tops fly through scenes from Macbeth to Hamlet, with pit stops at Troilus and Cressida, Romeo and Juliet, all of the history plays, and more.
Some of the daggers are mimed, while the rapiers in Hamlet’s (Mark Nager) climactic duel with Laertes (Paul Etuk) appear in their rubber-tipped steel incarnations. Some plastic intestines are thrown around the stage. Top billing, however, should go to the prop blood capsules. The actors start out clean-scrubbed. By play’s end, they are are saturated in the red goo, as is the plastic sheet that covers the mat on which they convulse, gasp, scream, choke, shudder and engage so gleefully in eye-rolling paroxysms of agony. A few scenes simply entail an actor appearing and trembling to his or her death, blackout.
I wish the company were better with the language, but the 60-minute dance of death, accompanied by Neubauer’s pleasingly frivolous soundtrack of light classical music, make a virtue of the relentless. It has the same effect as the British company, Forced Entertainment, and a piece called Exquisite Pain, which they performed as a reading of Sophie Calle’s diary. That work was a description by the author of everything that had ever gone wrong — terrible accidents, slow, agonizing diseases of loved ones — so that the stories’ cumulative effect became comical. The emotional distance is the antidote to lunacy from the ravages of life and death.
And so it is here, though perhaps with a smidgen more campiness. (The princes in the tower of Richard III are puppets that dangle out of the stage manager’s booth.) The live actors, however (who also including Jamey Hecht, Gus Krieger, Nathan Dean Snyder, David Macrae, Leslie Josette, Jillian Burgos, and Lydia Muijen) possess a ferocious commitment to their many, many downfalls, so, in this production, the word committed has a double meaning.
My English grandmother hated Shakespeare. “All that killin’, ” she would complain. I wish she could have lived to see this show. I’ll bet she’d have found it to be perversely curative. Or not to be.
THE NIGHT IS A CHILD | By CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT | At the PASADENA PLAYHOUSE, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena | Through October 4 | (626) 356-7529
NOT TO BE | By WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE | Compiled by ADAM NEUBAUER and AMANDA MARQUARDT | ZOMBIE JOE’S UNDERGROUND, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd. | Through September 13 | (818) 202-4120