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
Everyone gets gored. The trick is to avoid bleeding to death.
Hanket's performance is a treasure. It would be so easy to overplay the bristled hide of a man teaching history in a culture of diminishing attention spans that has no respect for or curiosity about much of anything that went before. (I teach at a state university where only four out of 50 general-education students in a world-theater course had ever heard of Arthur Miller.) To some degree, Hanket wears on his sleeve that generalized anguish of being in the wrong place in the wrong century. But that's not to be confused with bitterness. Somehow, Hanket tempers all the innate cynicism that accompanies knowing too much for one's own good with indescribable tenderness. To be so world-wise and so tender at the same time makes for a magnificent rendition of a glorious character, who knows exactly which rules he will break, and which he won't.
Perhaps it's because he's about to retire to a sheep farm he just inherited so he just doesn't care anymore, or perhaps it's his oddly tuned moral compass that permits him to share cigarettes with Marion before class. This is not a particularly good idea, if one makes a virtue of etiquette, or even health. For this, he's reprimanded by the principal, Judy Bench (Amanda Weier, in another lovely performance), a competent young woman who strides around campus pretending to be in control. There's the subtlest of glimmers in Weier's eye, a twist of self-mockery that lets it be known that Judy doesn't quite believe her own posturing. So her reprimanding Linus for smoking with a student comes ever so slightly honey-coated. Or perhaps it's the residue of her having to cut another of his history classes due to budget constraints, and the priorities of having students pass the "No Child Left Behind" tests that don't make history a priority.
That tenderness underlying Hanket's Linus makes it completely plausible that Marion will eventually fall for him. She's no romantic, and how she deals with these alien stirrings of her heart is a test for both writer and performer, a test both pass with flying colors.
And if everyone seems just a little too good to be true, there's math teacher Harold Carson to put things wrong. With Colin Walker's sly performance, Harold also knows which rules he'll break, but he's too arrogant and too much of a cipher to get away with it. The play needs him as a guide for how the world really turns.
Act 2 gets into all the psychological reasons why these characters are suffering from gravel burns after having been tossed off life's highway, which causes the play to implode ever so slightly. And this is only because Act 1 has such a poetical largesse, being about the end of history. That's a hard Act to follow.
Because, if you have a history that nobody around you cares to acknowledge or even know, you're just a crank who, as far as the rest of the world can tell, makes up stories. And that's when you become a little like Don Quixote or Sancho Panza: What's real and what's a fantasia grow increasingly difficult to fathom. The only task that matters, then, is doing whatever it takes to get out of prison.
LA RAZÓN BLINDADA (ARMORED REASON) | Written and directed by ARISTIDES VARGAS | Presented by EL INSTITUTO de CULTURA de BAJA, CALIFORNIA, MEXICO; LA UNIVERSIDAD AUTONOMA de SINALOA, MEXICO; and the 24th STREET THEATRE, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. | Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through Nov. 7 | (213) 745-6516
A WOLF INSIDE THE FENCE | By JOSEPH FISHER | Presented by OPEN FIST THEATRE COMPANY, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd. | Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through Oct. 9 | (323) 882-6912