Julia Edwards’ wildly implausible, plot-heavy science-fiction melodrama untethered is an often exasperating yet ultimately irresistible, immersive theatergoing experience that creates the sensation of having somehow lived through a Hollywood movie. Three movies, to be exact.
Untethered, staged in Altadena’s Mountain View Mausoleum, begins with distinct echoes of the 1980 Ken Russell/Paddy Chayefsky New Age sci-fi film Altered States. Ellie (Joy Osmanski), plagued by traumatizing nightmares about her philandering and marriage-phobic boyfriend Ari (Adam J. Smith), consults misanthropic Professor Abbot (Kevin McCorkle), a defrocked sleep researcher, who has been trying to meditate his way into the fourth dimension to expiate his own marital crimes of the past.
Conveniently, Abbot also turns out to be Ari’s estranged father, prompting Ellie to dream herself into Ari’s childhood to understand how he became a commitment-fearing chip off of Abbot’s malignant block. When the experience traps her in space-time, however, Ari’s psychotherapeutic rescue attempt sends untethered into the hallucinatory realm of Christopher Nolan’s surreal 2010 metaphysical thriller Inception.
And if untethered's brittle story contrivances, esoteric plot gobbledygook and floridly portentous, emotionally overwrought characters risibly strain credulity along with patience, a masterful ensemble and director Jen Bloom’s inventive use of her readymade scenery (dramatically lit by Brian Barraza) make it an oddly compelling ride. Act 2’s climactic audience promenade through the sumptuous stained glass, marble crypts and frescoed halls of the mausoleum is a cinematically fluid staging coup as well as a final, eerie movie homage to the 1979 cult mausoleum horror hit Phantasm.
GO! Mountain View Mausoleum, 2300 N. Marengo Ave., Altadena; through June 7. (323) 960-1054, plays411.com/untethered.
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