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Stage Raw

Stage Raw: Comedies About the End of the World

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Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 3:24 AM

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STAGE FEATURE on Leonard Nimoy and Company of Angels

COMEDIES ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD
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Poland's Theatre ZAR rehearsing Gospels of Childhood at St. Giles-in-the-Fields parish church in London, where they performed it last month. That piece is the first third of the Tryptic they're bringing to UCLA Live/Royce Hall on December 1-2. They'll be in Los Angeles in late November, conducting workshops with local theater companies. Photo by Ken Reynolds

Wroclaw, Poland -- If you're looking for an incubator of new forms as a measure of what really matters in the theater, Poland is where it's at, and has been for some time. Even in the midst of an economic crisis, Wroclaw is throwing a great international theater festival this month (Dialog - Wroclaw, curated by Krystyna Meissner, of Theatre Wrolczesny). It's the second such festival in this mid-size city in six months. (In June, The World As a Place of Truth Festival, curated and administered by the Grotowski Institute, was yet another big party of great performances.) Once more, a slew of critics from Russia, Britain and the U.S. has flown in to see the likes of Buchner's Woyceck (Handspring Puppet Company, Johannesburg, South Africa), literally animated by puppets and by director William Kentridge's black-and-white film of backdrop settings, unfolding as child-like drawings as though from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

There was also the grungiest Baal I'ver ever seen (RO Theater,

Rotterdam) - in which Brecht's titular poet was played by a sneering,

androgynous woman (Fania Sorel) who depicted her character's gender by

drawing a phallus onto her jiggling stomach with an ink-marker. I heard

that in a post-performance discussion, the stunned Dutch troupe was

ripped a new rectum by the hostile crowd.  One reported response, "If I

want to see garbage, I can look in my trash can," seems to me a little

over-the-top in terms of drama criticism - especially for a production

that, with its Johnny Rotten aesthetic, was so well acted and carefully

designed. The Poles, like Angelenos in the film industry, are a slender

people. I guess that flab shown so unapolagetically is not a sight they

take sitting down. In a play about societal indoctrination, the Dutch

may well have made their point.

Last night, I saw a fantastic one-man show, Looking for a Missing Employee,

from Beirut, Lebanon, that a few people walked out on. One of the

walkouts was a Moscow journalist I'd met a few days earlier. Haven't

seen her since, but I suspect the cause of the offense was the play's

assault on our ability to know anything in general, and on our reliance

on newspapers in particular.  (When I speak to her again - I've got her

card but no telephone here -- I'll let you know if my theory holds)

Rabih

Mroue, a slender standup comedian, performed in quite good English a show about

his fetishistic concern with missing persons. His style was very

easy-going, and there's no way on Earth he was going to get all pious

on us about this terrible issue. His approach was more like a cross

between Franz Kafka and a Lebanese version of Jon Stewart.

He

stood at a podium in the back of the theater, while we saw his

televised face on a large screen - which is the smart theatrical

conceit about how we receive information (and misinformation) through

mass media. There were two smaller screens on either side of the main

screen: One showed his fingers rifling through albums of newspaper

clippings he had so fastidiously glued onto the album's pages; the

other showed hand-drawn diagrams following the plight of one man who

disappeared from the Lebanese Ministry of Finance while walking home.

Mroue tracks the newspaper accounts, article by article, and the facts

start wobbling like drunks staggering out of a bar at 2 a.m.

On

the day the subject disappeared, $3 billion (Lebanese dollars) was found missing from the

Ministry, the first article reports. In the next article the amount

stolen as shot up to $40 billion. Next, his car is discovered with

money in the trunk, while his forlorn wife pleads in the next article

that her husband is/was not a thief. Next thing, she's been arrested

for conspiracy. An article or two later, the missing amount is down to $10 billion. There's

a sub-plot about fraudulent stamps in the city. It goes nowhere, which

is part of the delight. Co-conspirators get introduced and not a speck

of information is reliable, despite the continual reference to "trusted

sources."

Least reliable of all is our narrator, who, in order

to dramatize several days of no new articles, takes a three minute

break during which we all listen to Chopin. (That's when a few in the

audience walked out; it's particularly rude to walk out on Chopin in

Poland.) Later, depicting with faux suspense a frenzy of

misinformation, he apologizes for losing his place, and for having

accidentally glued one crucial article face down into his album. By the

time he discovered his mistake, he pried the article from the page,

he explains. All that's left (which we see on screen) is distorted half-sentences

on tattered strips of paper, indecipherable in dried glue.

Aside from its generalized surrealism, the piece offers a cautionary tale for relying on media that, for too many reasons to enumerate here, have such a sketchy relationship to the truth.

Check back here Monday afternoon for the latest NEW THEATER REVIEWS of Stacy Sims' As White as O, at Road Theatre Company; Cirque du Soleil's Kooza at the Santa Monica Pier; the world premiere of Ruth McKee's Stray,

presented by Chalk Rep and the Black Dahlia Theatre, which is also the

venue; Seaglass Theatre's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World at the Victory Theatre; From the Ground Up's production of American Grind, co-written by E. Yarber, Tracy Lane and Cheri Anne Johnson; Scott Martin's new musical, Children of the Night, presented by the Katselas Theatre Company a the Beverly Hills Playhouse; Steven Dietz's Private Eyes at the Raven Playhouse; and Lee Blessing's Chesapeake, presented by Syzygy Theatre Group at GTC Burbank.

ED ASNER ON KPFK

Ed

Asner is performing in the world premiere broadcast of a radio play,

It's Up to Us Alone, a domestic drama swirling around the

Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friday, Oct. 16, 5 p.m. on KPFK, 90.7 F.M.

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