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Adapting Gustave Flaubert’s phantasmagoric novel about the spiritual struggles of the 4th-century anchorite Antony of Egypt to a storefront stage might seem an overly ambitious literary nut to crack for any company lacking the resources of, say, famed avant-garde director Robert Wilson.

But from the moment one enters the intimate, book leaf–blasted, immersive environment of The Temptation of St. Antony’s secret downtown location, the entrancing, avant-pop-operatic vision of creators Mat Diafos Sweeney and Sebastian Peters-Lazaro begins to seduce. The duo started the company Four Larks in 2008 to “create junkyard operas in unexpected locations,” and recently moved from Melbourne to L.A. 

Peters-Lazaro, who choreographs the 90-minute piece’s hallucinatory dance movements and (with Regan Baumgarten) serves as scenic designer, takes a page from Michel Foucault’s preface to Flaubert and conceives the cell of Antony (an intense Max Baumgarten) as the saint’s book-lined mind that “liberates impossible worlds.” Director and (with Ellen Warkentine) co-composer Sweeney’s precise, contemporized staging, with its opening image of Max Baumgarten obsessively tapping out the narration over a manual typewriter, expands that conceit into an eerily musicalized allegory of the frenzied imagination in the throes of creation.

A superb ensemble (featuring standout solos by Kalean Ung, Caitlyn Conlin and Zachary Carlisle Sanders), a flawless six-piece orchestra, the effective atmospherics of Brandon Baruch’s lights and Danny Echevarria’s sound and one of the best original scores (with lyrics by Jesse Rasmussen) of recent L.A. memory all make The Temptation a sensual, intellectual and vastly entertaining feast.

Four Larks, dwntwn. (performance address given with ticket purchase); through March 6. Fourlarks-tickets.com.


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