It's not easy to characterize And the Drum, the weird and whimsical but profoundly captivating site-specific stage hybrid from Capital W, the experimental-theater collective comprised of director-writer Lauren Ludwig and producer Monica Miklas.
On its website, the show is baldly described as "immersive dance theater fused with a dinner party." But for those fortunate enough to have experienced Hamlet-Mobile, the duo's acclaimed Shakespeare-in-a-van production at last summer's Hollywood Fringe Festival, a better characterization of this sort of extreme, in-your-lap audience immersion and indelible imagism might be performing what poet Marianne Moore famously called "imaginary gardens with real toads in them."
A less fanciful description: It's a musical without music. Instead of song, the dance numbers feature conversationally pitched recitations from The Second Bush Administration, the collection of playfully expressive metaphysical verse about life, politics and the redemptive nature of love penned during the Dubya era by the evening's star, L.A. performance poet Martha Marion.
The "book" tying it all together follows a dinner hosted by Marion from the arrival of the dozen audience members/guests at a nondescript three-bedroom Craftsman in Koreatown — Marion's actual home — through introductory chitchat, interactive party games, an actual dinner (a bowl of udon noodles and wine), after-dinner dancing and more intimate tête-à-têtes with Marion and the ensemble (dancers Eli Weinberg, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Tailor Lee and Nell Rutledge-Leverenz) throughout the house's various rooms, stairways, cellar and porches.
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Over the course of the evening, a fascinating thing begins to happen: By moving the audience into whisper-close physical proximity to the actors, the intimacy not only dissolves the traditional live-performance frame of conventional theater but also uncannily blurs the ontological boundaries between the fictive and the real. Suddenly highly stylized musical-theater conventions, such as Lee breaking into an impromptu tap dance, or Weinberg and Rutledge-Leverenz abruptly erupting into a sort of rough-and-tumble Apache (choreographed by Ludwig and dance consultant Erica Sobol), seems as much second nature as sharing stories with good friends over supper.
Throughout it all, Brittany Blouch's origamilike scenic design (every nook is crammed with decoratively folded leaves of verse); Brandon Baruch's kinetic, naturalistic lighting; and Dave McKeever's moody sound and original music provide subtly effective reminders that one has entered the lyrically offbeat imagination of the likable Marion, whose barefooted, husky-voiced delivery and buoyant, ball-of-fire personality supplely sweeten the night.
And the Drum plays at a private home Koreatown (address disclosed with ticket purchase) through March 19. capitalwperformance.com.