AMERICAN MIDGET In his audacious one-act, playwright Jonathan Yukich covers an enormous array of issues, homing in on cruelly undermined self-esteem in a society spinning out of control. Like many young writers, Yukich is a bit too preciously concerned with his turns of phrase and outlandish situations, which keeps a clear expression of his purpose at bay. Nevertheless his labyrinthian language is joyous especially when spoken by this extraordinary cast, who capture intricate nuances even within caricatured roles. Tom Walz is disarming as Albert, a young innocent who somehow survives numerous, intense crushing blows to his ego. Most damaging is Mr. Much (Dion Jackson), a mysterious ringmaster whose spoken stage directions manipulate the action of all characters. Muchs whisperings to Albert, calling him a midget, begin to actually convince the boy that he is shrinking. Endless side stories of other suffering souls weave through this upsetting, hilarious journey through a Dadaist world. Ben Kuslers direction takes full advantage of his casts finely tuned skills, creating a sense of clarity that the play sidesteps all amid so much delightful nonsense. For a tiny theater with its tinier budget, the set (Eric Haily), lights and costumes (Kusler) are remarkably effective. MET THEATRE, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hlywd.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru May 19. (323) 957-1152. (Tom Provenzano)
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SLIDING INTO HADES Playwright Aaron Hennes play is an evocative riff on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, cunningly fashioned by director Ron Sossi into a surreal, tour de force fantasia of ghosts, dreams and metaphors. The tale is told by Orpheus (Alan Abelow), who, as an old man, recalls losing the chance to save the life of his beloved Eurydice (Diana Cignoni). In flashback, we see how Eurydice dies on her wedding day and how her descent into Hades is marked by a terrifying series of visions during which she gradually sheds every aspect of herself, from her identity to her memories. As a young Orpheus (Eric Losoya) storms Hell to get his love back, he endures a variety of infernal confrontations. In his intellectually acrobatic and ferociously imaginative production, Sossi envisions a Boschian vision of Hades where the dead push shopping carts like zombies and Orpheus is forced to ford places like the Swamp of Shame or the Desert of Despair. Although some of the plays conceits occasionally stumble into the Pond of Pretentiousness, the production is still a provocative meditation on the depths of grief and of deaths ultimate dissolution of identity. Vivid performances are offered by Abelow, Losoya and Cignoni but special mention must also be made of Beth Hogans sibylline turn as the genial yet sinister god Pluto. KOAN Ensemble at the ODYSSEY THEATRE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru June 17. (310) 477-2055. (Paul Birchall)