Medea, A Wolf Inside the Fence, Topdog/Underdog | Theater | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Medea, A Wolf Inside the Fence, Topdog/Underdog 

Also, Becoming Norman, Speak of Me As I Am and more

Thursday, Aug 12 2010

BECOMING NORMAN Utah native Norman P. Dixon has had two coming-out parties: first, as a gay man and second as an artist. At times, he's been one or the other — say, when he graduated with a drama degree from BYU — but this solo show marks the 45-year-old's insistence on claiming both after spending the last 15 years toiling in office work and retail. The first half of the night follows the artist as pretty blond boy slowly learning that (a) there was a closet, and (b) he was in it. No quick revelation in Orem, Utah, a town, as Dixon describes, "where people didn't even think Boy George was gay." Dixon is a handsome blond with a theatrical voice, and he powers through his life story with a blend of self-congratulation and insecurity. This serves him less well when his autobiography decamps from Salt Lake to Los Angeles and we hit waves of tales wherein his talents are spotted, he's offered a semi–big break and he sabotages himself in fear. Dixon's journey is both topical and familiar — who hasn't moved out to L.A. with big dreams? — and its only surprises come from his warm support network. When the former Mormon sent out four dozen letters announcing he was gay, only two respondents were upset. Between anecdotes, Dixon belts out songs he wrote about his struggle, built around words like dreams and wings and flying. We're happy he's happy. Debra De Liso directs. NOHO Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Sept. 12. (800) 595-4849. (Amy Nicholson)

KAFKA'S MONKEY — A REPORT TO AN ACADEMY Poor Franz Kafka. The prewar prose master of the sardonic grotesque has taken a terrific drubbing in the English-speaking world, not the least by substandard translations. These have all but eviscerated the caustic irony of his slyly subversive chronicles of man's quest for dignity in the dehumanizing bureaucratic purgatory of the Industrial Age. Reason enough to celebrate director Elena Vannoni's dazzling, German-language staging of Kafka's mordacious, 1917 monologue. In it, a renowned talking chimp, Red Peter (H.P. Vannoni in a tour-de-force performance), recounts the five-year odyssey from his kidnapping in the jungles of Africa to his fame in the music halls of Europe. H.P. Vannoni is aided by English supertitles, in a translation seasoned with heretofore missing, Kafka-esque flavors by Bruce Anderson, and a large video screen that projects and sometimes abstracts extreme close-ups of the onstage action. The actor articulates Red Peter's determination to escape the fate of life behind the bars of a German zoo by at first aping the loutish behavior of his captors, and later augmenting that with the education and elocution of "the average European." But by restoring the original, guttural poetry and syntactical music of Kafka's mother tongue — even as he parses the subtexts with languidly pregnant pauses, mercurial shifts from simian rage and wistful regret to shocked comprehension — Vannoni the actor also eloquently underscores Kafka's supreme irony: By taking on the attributes of human civilization, Red Peter has merely traded one kind of cage for another. Zoo District at the Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City; closed. (323) 464-3375, (Bill Raden)

GO  MEDEA Euripides' tragedy concerning a betrayed woman and her monstrous revenge remains a timeless examination of humanity's struggle with its darker, primal urges. With the exception of a misstep at play's end, Travis Terry brilliantly directs a superb cast, relocating the story to a contemporary lunatic-asylum setting. The text reveals a few contemporary words — kid and trash — while preserving the antique language that's so rich with imagery and passion. Adalgiza Chermountd's Medea is first heard wailing from behind a white paper wall, part of designer Dionne Poindexter's central set piece of Medea's quarters, which rotates with ease. "Whipping her grief-tormented heart into a fury," Chermountd has a disheveled yet formidable presence, and her multihued interpretation ranges from coherent and ferocious to deranged. Her unspeakable deed is chillingly depicted. Commenting in unison, the chorus of young girl (Shaina Vorspan), mother (Lauren Wells) and grandmother (Karen Richter) double as asylum orderlies, with Shaina Vorspan giving an especially expressive performance. There are some welcome moments of levity in R. Benito Cardenas' playful interpretation of Aegeus, one of Medea's fellow lunatics. A highlight is the scene when Medea's duplicitous ex-husband, Jason (Max Horner), attempts to "correct her exaggeration" with his version of events. Aside from a tacked-on happy ending that feels utterly false, this unpretentious production holds many rewards. Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through August 29. (323) 667-0955. (Pauline Adamek)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RANDOLPH ADAMS - Topdog/Underdog
  • Topdog/Underdog

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SPEAK OF ME AS I AM It's easy to understand why singers and dramatic artists would want to portray the legendary Paul Robeson. Actor, athlete, intellect and man of principle, Robeson fearlessly battled for justice — and paid the price. This solo show, featuring opera baritone KB Solomon, meshes some of the highlights of Robeson's life with renditions of the songs ("Old Man River," "Going Home") for which he's most famous. The (uncredited) script relays information about Robeson's life in no particular order but repeatedly returns to his battle with HUAC's hearings and their painful aftermath. Directed by Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter, Solomon (whose bio lists music credits but no acting) spins an expository monologue that remains on the surface and seems most suitable for youthful audiences unfamiliar with the material. Designer Michael Boucher has crafted a low-budget but attractive set, and Joyce S. Long's lighting adds professional sheen. Gallery Theater in Barnsdall Park, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun 3 p.m.; through September 5. (323) 960-7779, (Deborah Klugman)

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