What a difference a continent makes. I saw Anna Skubiks Broken Nails last year in Wroclaw, Poland, where a dim, suspended lightbulb and a stark pool of light (lighting by Anna Cecelia Martin) are just part of the Grotowskian theatrical landscape. Despite the recession, were a comparatively buoyant culture, and that stark aesthetic feels exotic on an L.A. stage, where half of our theaters, it seems, are dedicated to musicals that parody movies. In and around a huge suitcase, an 80-something Marlene Dietrich (a life-size cloth puppet) engages with Skubik. In one scene theyre attached at the hip. Dietrich is hammering out the inner meanings of words like fame, while taking painful injections to defy her obvious age. With her fiery red hair, Skubik is her nurse/keeper, and the relationship is as touchy as in Ronald Harwoods The Dresser. There are moments when Dietrich/Skubik sings, which is not this productions strength. It flies, however, on the intricacy of the relationship between the two women, both quite animated, despite one being inanimate. That single idea, of whats alive and what isnt, of what is an imitation of life, and what isnt, caught in the frame of an aging diva, is a source of infinite fascination. And Dietrichs various reactions to Skubiks proddings hold an almost childlike appeal. In one scene, we hear extended applause, and Dietrich asks, How long does a moment last? Its a question anyone in the theater should relate to, and probably anyone beyond the theater, too. Romuald Wicza-Pokojski directs. The evenings first half is also a solo show, Look, What I Dont Understand (if one doesnt count the puppet), written and performed by Skubiks partner, American actor Anthony Nikolchev, and directed by Yuriy Kordonskiy. Also set around suitcases, but with the compelling centerpiece of a wire cage, Nikolchev portrays an array of characters with telling idiosyncrasies in the story of his Bulgarian familys entrapment by the Soviets, and their eventual exile to an Italian refugee camp, where they wait as they hope to enter the communist-phobic United States. The study in tyranny and living in margins is harrowing in its authenticity, ensnared by the truthfulness of the performance. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (Sun., Feb. 21, March 14 & 28 at 7 p.m. only); through March 28. (310) 477-2055.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 14, 2 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 21, 7 p.m.; Sun., March 14, 7 p.m.; Sun., March 28, 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 13. Continues through March 28, 2010
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