Kenneth H. Brown couldn’t have stumbled upon a more apt metaphor for institutional conformity than a U.S. Marine Corps jail in Japan, the setting for his 1963 play, first performed by New York’s Living Theatre. For nearly two hours we watch the robotic routines of 10 prisoners (later joined by an 11th) as they are loudly ordered about by a crew of sometimes sadistic, mostly bored guards. We don’t know the men’s names, their crimes or their thoughts — we merely follow their Kabuki-like choreography as they mop floors, smoke cigarettes and line up for chow and showers. As repetitious and ritualized as the “maggots’ ” movements are, they never become boring and it isn’t long before we get caught up in this drama of monotony. How would I get along here? we find ourselves wondering. Would we show the guards how well we’d adapt or would we rebel — or would we, like Prisoner No. 6 (Thom McGinn), find it all too much to bear? This production, directed by original cast member Tom Lillard, is a remount of a 2007 Obie-winning effort. He thoroughly brings us into Brown’s world, in which the prisoners must always stare straight ahead, navigate their cell through military about-faces and never allow their bare feet to touch the floor. Their labored breathing is the only sound they are allowed to volunteer. While virtually interchangeable, the prisoner ensemble of 11 actors performs frighteningly well, at turns morphing into a giant green caterpillar of movement. The guards are similarly faceless although Jeff Nash’s Private Tepperman exudes a cobralike menace. Julianne Elizabeth Eggold’s set is a desolate chamber of bunks, cyclone fencing and barbed wire, visually connecting Cold War brutalism with its Guantanamo legacy
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 10, 7 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sun., April 6, 2 p.m.; Sun., April 13, 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 9. Continues through April 13, 2008

LA Weekly