By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
David Esbjornson directs a gothic and somewhat brooding, naturalistic and almost three-hour production on his own austere set of platforms and pillars — a production that springs to life when the actors portray actors, and the play becomes about the theater, and the domestic squabbles within it.
There’s a playwright-character (Cody Henderson), too, in Land of the Tigers, a satire of theater-making in Los Angeles. The production, written by the company Burglars of Hamm (Carolyn Almos, Matt Almos, Jon Beauregard and Albert Dayan), is being reprised at the Lost Studio after a successful run at Sacred Fools Theater earlier this year. Each act is an interlinked play, the first setting up the second. In the latter, a tyrannical director named Michael Livingston (Dean Gregory) traffics in emotional abuse as a rationalization of his creative process.
With the exceptions of one performer (Ruth Silveira), who walks out after the director calls her a “cunt” in public, and the playwright, Brian, the rest of the company in this ensemble-created project is all too willing to accept Michael’s strutting self-importance; his guru posturing; his insistence that, on command, each tell a harrowing personal secret; and his blather about entering a “sacred circle” in order to tell the truth through art. Susan, a zaftig woman in the motley troupe (a wonderfully self-righteous performance by Rebecca Metz), winds up walking Michael’s dog on a weekend he’s out of town, as well as providing other, more salacious services. Susan’s devotion stems from a bottomless pit of loneliness and need, which is the core of the satire.
Brian’s frustration is that they’ve squandered months on acting exercises and have yet to come up with a script, or even a shape. Michael’s retort sounds strikingly like Shag’s defense of King Lear — that the truth doesn’t have a literary shape, the difference being that Shag had provided a script when he made that argument. Michael has simply provided a series of power trips over the fragile egos of his emotionally vulnerable thespians. When, to address his frustration, Brian arrives at one rehearsal with his script in hand, Michael dismisses Brian’s effort without even glancing at a page.
All of what I’ve described above (there are other twists of plot and logic) unfolds in Act 2, which explains and reveals the bizarre allegory presented in Act 1, a cross between Planet of the Apes and The Crucible: Once upon a time, tigers ruled the earth. Eventually, they learned how to stand erect and form a civilization — here depicted with the half-men, half-tigers in Ann Closs-Farley’s gorgeous 18th-century costumes and powdered wigs — punctuated with Parliamentary discourse, incest and primal mating rituals. There’s also a concerned scientist (Jack Kehler) who tries and fails to open a discussion about global cooling. After their performance, the actors drop their characters, assemble on the stage and spell out with teary-eyed, stoic solemnity all of the metaphors we’ve just seen. Act 1, presented with no context, is both provocative and jaw-droppingly lame, albeit with fantastic performances by Hugo Armstrong, Paul Byrne, Tim Sheridan and Devin Sidell (as the she-tiger, Sheba). Act 2 is the context, of course, the story of how they came up with this debacle, which is perhaps less painful than how they came tobelieve in it. Matt Almos directs.
EQUIVOCATION | By BILL CAIN | GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd. | Through Dec. 20 | (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.com.
LAND OF THE TIGERS | By BURGLARS OF HAMM | Presented by FRANTIC REDHEAD PRODUCTIONS in association with BURGLARS OF HAMM and the LOST STUDIO | 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A. | Resumes Dec. 4, Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. (added perf Sun., Dec. 13, 8 p.m.); through Dec. 13 | (310) 440-0221
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