There are at least three reasons to check out Ensemble Studio Theatre's staging of Gregory Moss' newish play House of Gold at Atwater Village Theater. In no particular sequence, one is Jacqueline Wright's gorgeously grotesque, manic and spastic performance as JonBenét Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty pageant princess who was found murdered in the basement of her Boulder, Colo., family home in 1996. Another is Drew Christie's video animation, which allows filmed and stage action to bleed into each other. This introduces the third, Gates McFadden's dynamic, absurdist staging of the play's two intersecting stories: Ramsey's abduction from her monstrous parents (Tony Pasqualini and Denise Crosby) in a broad yet chilling style that blends Eugene Ionesco with Christopher Durang, and the saga of Ramsey's fat, nerdy loudmouth pal, Jasper (Alex Davis), bullied by a quartet of anatomically chiseled “Apollonian Boys” (Chris Arvan, Josh Heine, Matt Little and Eric Schulman), who box and toss mimed basketballs with choreographed grace when not beating the annoying kid to a pulp.
Kurt Boetcher's set offers the actors a primary-colored hallucinogenic playpen of set pieces, including an electric car used by the killer (Graham Sibley) rolling in and out of the theater's hallway, high beams blinding us from a distance.
The play traffics in familiar images of bullying and the creepiness of beauty pageants in general and kiddie pageants in particular. The production's novelty, however, comes from the intensity of the performances and how the production laces in the play's horror and absurdity with such visual acuity. —Steven Leigh Morris
HOUSE OF GOLD | By GREGORY MOSS | Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A. at the Atwater Village Theatre | 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village | (323) 644-1929 | ensemblestudiotheatrela.org