Dual Citizens

What a difference a continent makes. I saw Anna Skubik’s “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, we’re 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 they’re 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 Harwood’s The Dresser. There are moments when Dietrich/Skubik sings, which is not this production’s 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 what’s alive and what isn’t, of what is an imitation of life, and what isn’t, caught in the frame of an aging diva, is a source of infinite fascination. And Dietrich’s various reactions to Skubik’s proddings hold an almost childlike appeal. In one scene, we hear extended applause, and Dietrich asks, “How long does a moment last?” It’s a question anyone in the theater should relate to, and probably anyone beyond the theater, too. Romuald Wicza-Pokojski directs. The evening’s first half is also a solo show, Look, What I Don’t Understand (if one doesn’t count the puppet), written and performed by Skubik’s 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 family’s 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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