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the Shelter

There’re no two ways about it — either you’ll think Valery Belyakovich’s stylized reworking of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths is a work of mad genius or you’re going to feel bludgeoned by three hours of hyper-mannered movement, hoarse declamations and intrusive music. I happen to fall into the latter demographic, although I do recognize the dedication and physical endurance of 19 actors who are nearly always twirling behind whichever characters are speaking at the moment. Set in a contemporary flophouse, the story is a collection of the biographies of various “types” whose lives have been ruined by alcohol. These include a lawyer, an actor, a whore, a cardsharp — even a deli owner. They’ve lost everything and are reduced to living in a filthy room crammed with bunk beds, tyrannized by the flophouse’s owners (Franklyn Ajaye and Nicole Ansari Cox) and a crooked cop (Timothy V. Murphy). A messianic figure named the Wanderer (Donald Lacy) arrives to spread hope as the play’s one real plot unfolds — a love triangle between the owner’s wife, her sister (Stasha Surdyke) and the resident thief (Pasha D. Lychnikoff, who, with co-producer Lee Hubbard, adapted this work for English). The overuse of a fog machine is one tip-off that we’re in for an evening of atmosphere masquerading as philosophy; another is the recurring use of calliope music to underscore reminiscences, and Wojciech Kilar’s theme from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to suggest menace. Black Square Productions at the Odyssey Theater, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 5. (310) 477-2055.

—Steven Mikulan


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