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
If you find yourself at Son of Semele Theatre on a Tuesday through Thursday night, and I hope you do, you'll find a pair of one-man shows presented by a company called NeedTheater. The first of these, a play called The Event, is scripted by John Clancy. A slender, silver-haired man (Paul Dillon) with thick facial features and a rumpled dark suit ambles onto a bare stage. He gives the impression that even his five-o-clock shadow doesn't get to any appointment until about 7:15, and makes no apologies for the tardiness. There's just that kind of swagger to the Man, as he is known, barely concealing his otherwise-muted contempt for us, as well as for himself.
Before he gets to his almost Beckettian explication, however, he stares at us. It is the first in a sequence of direct challenges to why, exactly, we felt compelled to drive to a neighborhood near Virgil and Beverly, to sit in a dark room filled with strangers, with the presumption of being entertained by him. If presumption is too idealistic, let's just go with hope.
How did we get here? "By chance by advertising," he explains. Among his early lines, he says, referring to us: "They hope to be entertained." (His entire discourse is spoken in third person.) He then stares at us once more. "That hope is now flickering."
He eventually offers a meticulously crafted diagnosis of the role he is playing in this theater, in this moment in time, how he arrived at this point via rigorous rehearsals to perfect the technique that attempts to fool a roomful of strangers that he is speaking the truth, when he's actually faking it. Then there's the role we are all playing in this charade, in these fleeting moments in real time, during which our actual lives are passing at a speed from which we would be terrified, were we slightly more cognizant of what's really going on.
He may be a crank, but he's right. He has a passage devoted to the days when a phone used to ring without a message machine, and there was the presumption of, "Oh well, I guess they're not home." This somehow didn't lead to the panic of feeling disconnected. It led to an understanding through established protocol that you can try again and reach your friend or relative or business contact when they're near a phone that's plugged into a wall. And that was okay.
Being away from a phone is no longer permitted and yet, the Man ruminates, there's this inexplicable feeling of being untethered from our own society, despite all the texting and social-networking technologies. Perhaps this happened in the past five years. Perhaps it happened a long time ago, and we're only now growing aware of it.
Clancy's analysis expands into an allegory for the roles we are all playing in life, equated to the various frauds of the 21st century: the faked lines, spoken by rote, the stream of pleasantries en route to the grave, the drifting thoughts rolling around while the faked lines written by somebody else are being uttered. The physical costume that "the actor" doesn't even own. The anonymous lighting technician , who's calling the cues, in order to secure the fake effect for a fake "insular economy of friends going to the theater." So it's not just dot-coms, the mortgage and debt industries that have false economies. Playwright Clancy simply uses every conceivable aspect of the theater as an allegory for all the world being a stage. That he does it so simply turns his one-act into something like one of those luminous shafts of light that shoot up into the night from a truck outside some celebrity event or advertising event.
Ian Forester directs Dillon in a pitch-perfect interpretation. Dillon, a fine actor from Chicago, has been stepping out onto our small stages for years, and he imbues his brittle and wryly funny interpretation with what I'm presuming is a deeply felt understanding of what it means to perform in L.A.'s intimate theaters. But, of course, he's probably just faking it.
The other, unscripted play by Lawrence Bridges, also directed by Forester, consists of an interviewer asking a series of personal questions to a different actor each week. I saw Morlan Higgins, a powerful bearish presence (and a great actor), who turned each question into a spontaneous story with the craft of an Irish scribe. The event was about its own spontaneity. At one point, even Higgins asked, slightly bemused, "How much more of this is there?" — proving his own sensitivity to the flagging energy in the room. The interviewer, however, was bullish, and kept on asking questions as audience members checked their watches. With this concept, it takes two to tango.
Over at Art/Works Theatre in Hollywood, after having passed through a carnie show lobby, where you can purchase vodka, tape-on mustaches and coconut-potato soup, you enter a theater where all the seats are draped in white sheets. There's a Gothic chandelier suspended slightly off-balance. A large winter bough of some deciduous tree hangs in the sky. This is all the backdrop for ARTEL's vivaciously interactive dance-cabaret Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms — an ensemble-created sequence of short tableaux, honoring the early Soviet author Daniil Kharms and his absurdist mockery not just of life, but of the official art that was presumed to reflect it.