If the name Gertrude Stein isn't enough of a clue to not expect your average, well-made play, just walk into the seventh floor, downtown-penthouse performance space of this mesmerizing production by CalArts' Center for New Performance and L.A. stage experimentalists, Poor Dog Group. That's where Jesse Bonnell, John Kern and Jeffrey Elias Teeter's video projections of the surrounding cityscape create the uncanny effect that Efren Delgadillo Jr.'s combat-detritus set is perched high upon a vertiginous, open-air promontory. Such lofty, if illusory, heights provide an apt metaphor for the elevated discourse of Stein's lucidly conversational, postwar novella and its all-too-prophetic admonition against the political and intellectual conformity awaiting America's returning WWII GIs. Set during the limbo period between the end of the war and demobilization, director Travis Preston and writers Marissa Chibas and Erik Ehn's elegant adaptation follows the fears, gripes, prejudices and dreams of Stein's archetypal cross section of soldiers and military nurses as they pass the time fraternizing and musing about their uncertain futures. Brewsie (Jonney Ahmanson), a thoughtful sergeant "foggy in the head" but who wants "to be clear," provokes a probing dialogue with his fellow dogface, the voluble Willie (a dynamic Brad Culver), which soon includes their less reflective comrades. As the inarticulate men and women struggle to find words for their thoughts, Stein's apprehensions about parallels between the regimented thinking demanded by the Nazi's military-industrialism and those invited by our own consumer-industrial society are gradually given voice. Preston's vibrantly inventive direction of a first-rate ensemble, plus some additional, authentic ambience provided by circling LAPD helicopters, together suggest that any similarity between Stein's fears and the straits in which we find ourselves today is strictly intentional. 7th Floor Penthouse, 533 S. Los Angeles St., dwntwn.; Wed.-Sun., 8 p.m.; through Aug. 1, brownpapertickets.com. A CalArts' Center for New Performance in association with Poor Dog Group production.
Wednesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Starts: July 14. Continues through Aug. 1, 2010