Wood Boy Dog Fish
Rogue Artists Ensemble at Bootleg Theater
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder
Paul Turbiak and Willem Long
Photo by Chelsea Sutton
This darkly macabre adult retelling of the legend of Pinocchio is so visually dazzling and so filled with ingenious, spectacularly colorful marvels that the originality conjured by this company is alone worth the price of admission. Now, if only Chelsea Sutton’s script were vaguely as fascinating as the resourceful energy and imagination expended by the members of Rogue Artists Ensemble, who decorously explain themselves to be a unique troupe of “hyper-theatrical” designers and multidisciplinary artists who collectively create imagistic enchantment from scratch.
Utilizing ancient storytelling techniques—such as dance, masks, music, and above all puppetry—combined with modern technology gleaned from digital media, interactive sets, and sophisticated theatrical illusions, the Rogues are courageous and, luckily for their grateful audience, work totally without filter.
François-Pierre Couture’s fanciful and highly versatile set design, enhanced immeasurably by Dallas Nichols’s stunning videos, transforms Bootleg Theater’s converted warehouse space from Geppetto’s eclectic workroom to the bottom of the ocean to the ominous Dogfish’s creepy amusement park with the help of the über-enthusiastic cast members who move mountains—albeit cardboard mountains—and manage quick changes into Kerry Hennessy and Lori Meeker’s whimsical costuming to become fantastical cats, foxes, fish, and deliciously wild underwater creatures.
The masks were fabricated, according to the program, with the participation of an enormous number of company members. They are mind-blowing, and the puppetry, especially that for the infamous wooden boy with the growing nose (a string-less marionette manipulated from behind by three performers dressed head-to-toe in black) is extraordinary. The deep sea section of this production is populated by huge gorgeously feathery fish on poles, swimming around the stage manipulated by actors on their backs lying across giant skateboards. And when Pinocchio finds himself lured onto a frightening nightmare carnival ride, 3D glasses (available at check-in for a $1 “suggested donation”) are meant to enhance the audience’s experience.
The trouble here is that the storyline seems to have been developed around the special effects rather than the other way around. As visually mesmerizing as the production design is, Pinocchio’s journey oddly becomes about as dry and boring in places as watching paint dry. Sections appear to have been created because the Rogues had gimmicks to add—great ones notwithstanding—as well as wonderfully bizarre creatures or costuming to introduce.
But under director Sean T. Cawelti, little effort appear to have been spent to develop the classic tale or to justify some of the inexplicably broad acting choices made by his actors. Stylized performances are certainly acceptable when presenting such nonrealistic fare, but those performances must be consistent rather than individually indulgent.
Although it’s fun to watch the spirited and talented ensemble suggestively wrestle a kick-line of blow-up sex dolls or dueling with swords made from balloon animals, it doesn’t exactly translate to satisfying storytelling. And even though patrons were told at the entrance they would be informed when to don their 3D specs, the performance reviewed was the victim of a missed cue, so how the 3D section usually unfolds, presumably on Pinocchio’s scary ride through the dastardly amusement park, must remain a mystery in this review.
Still, Wood Boy Dog Fish is wondrous in so many ways. Though clearly geared for adults—Pinocchio has his feet burned off before being hung by the neck and left to swing throughout intermission—in our media-saturated society it’s unlikely children’s innocence would be compromised. So unless you’re raising your kiddies in a hermetically sealed Plexiglas capsule, they might not need to be left out of the fun.
November 16, 2015
13–Dec. 12. 2220 Beverly Blvd., near Downtown LA. Thu-Sat 7pm (note
early curtain). No perf. Nov. 26-27. Also Sat Nov. 28 (pay what you can)
and Sun Nov. 29 at 2pm. $18-25. (213) 596-9468.
Awake and Sing!
Reviewed by Melinda Schupmann
James Morosini and Marilyn Fox
Photo by Ron Sossi
When Awake and Sing! was produced in 1935, it was a transformative experience for theatergoers. Playwright Clifford Odets was an early member of the Group Theatre in New York, a lab for Stanislavski’s system of acting with a shared commitment among the collective for social change through theater. Among the most prominent members were Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Elia Kazan.
The youthful Odets wrote Waiting for Lefty, acclaimed for its call for progressive remedies for workers, including unionization. Its success led to Awake and Sing! in 1935, less fiery but still espousing reform for economic injustice in the aftermath of the Depression.
In Awake and Sing!, the modest Bronx apartment of the Jewish Berger family is the setting for the unfolding story of the sometimes contentious clan. Bessie (Marilyn Fox); her father, Jacob (Allan Miller); her ineffectual but optimistic husband, Myron (Robert Lesser); Bessie and Myron’s edgy grown daughter, Hennie (Melissa Paladino); and their 22-year-old son, Ralph (James Morosini), co-exist in the small but well-kept lodging (nicely articulated living space by Pete Hickok).
In the mix are Bessie’s affluent brother, Morty (Richard Fancy), and Moe Axelrod (David Agranov), a cynical family friend whose pugnacious and brash manner adds spice to the dialogue and underscores a simmering tension between Hennie and him. It has just been learned that Hennie is pregnant. To satisfy Bessie’s desires for respectability, she wields her considerable influence and forces Hennie to marry Sam (Gary Patent), a Russian man she doesn’t love who is courting her.
Odets chose an often utilized three-act format, and once the scene is set, the second act a year later contains the dolorous elements of the story. Ralph falls in love, but Bessie is contemptuous of the penniless orphan girl he has chosen. Jacob, in spite of being bullied by his daughter, encourages Ralph to break free and find a fulfilling life. He counsels, “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” For a brief time, Odets was a member of the Communist Party, and some of Jacob’s Marxist imprecations are left-leaning and express a strong social conscience.
Fox’s austere characterization reflects bitter disappointment in her marriage and a seeming disregard for the happiness of any of her family members. She seems a slightly darker character than Odets envisioned, and the only affection she shows is for her brother, but it is obvious in her manner that his wealth is the contributing factor. Fancy is spot-on as the self-satisfied and arrogant merchant, touting his superiority over the group and clashing with Jacob over political ideology. Miller is appealing as the gentle and frustrated idealist.
Odets envisioned the play with comedic touches, somewhat lost in this grim portrayal of dreams and romance lost. Agranov comes closest to capturing lighter moments as he snipes away at the family. Paladino delivers a despondent Hennie, but some of her spunk returns as she and Moe decide to abandon convention and leave to seek happiness.
The ensemble is well-cast and directed by Elina de Santos, reprising an earlier production she helmed 20 years ago at the Odyssey. Notable in this cast are Patent, who manages to wring all the anguish out of his hopeless marriage, and Morosini, whose youth is seemingly crushed by circumstance. He makes the transition from helplessness to optimism believable. Lesser makes a sympathetic foil for Fox’s harsh iron will. The ensemble creates a cohesive whole and delivers skilled characterizations.
Costumes by Kim DeShazo are effective, and Leigh Allen’s lighting design sets the appropriate mood. Sound designer Christopher Moscatiello achieves a 1930s flavor with Caruso recordings and radio broadcasts.
Odets’s choice to conclude the events with an illusory happy ending for all is probably less realistic than the exposition suggests, but it ties up all the ends satisfactorily for the audience. At least Ralph finds strength within himself and hope for the future.
A revival of Odets’s play seems fitting as some of the same uncertainties exist in today’s political and economic climate. The dialogue is certainly dated and solutions to their problems would be handled much differently today, but as a glimpse into America’s theatrical past, it is thought-provoking.
September 28, 2015
26–Jan. 31, 2016. 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West LA. Fri–Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm (Thu
8pm in Oct. and Nov.). $15–34. (310) 477-2055 ext. 2.
Reviewed by Dany Margolies
Amanda Blake Davis and Robyn Norris
Sometimes theater is about humankind’s greatest achievers. Sometimes it’s about supremely tragic figures. And sometimes, as with this show, it’s about the rest of us.
A group of Second City’s fine performers went off piste and conducted a social experiment. After Robyn’s (Robyn Norris) friend posted a profile on a dating site and asked Robyn to check it over, Robyn set up an account to access the site. Robyn created the outlandish profile of an admittedly “crazy-insane person” she named TracyLovesCats. A shockingly large number of men—and women—responded, begging for various forms of contact with “Tracy.”
Norris’s fellow troupe members Chris Alvarado, Rob Belushi, Amanda Blake Davis, Kate Duffy, and Bob Ladewig joined in, posting outrageous profiles no one could possibly think were anything other than a joke. These performers’ “sketch” show, Undateable, re-enacts verbatim the heartfelt responses by real, everyday people to these perverse personals.
So, even though Rob (Belushi) pushed the intimacy-phobic envelope with DoorSlamEric, women think Eric is dateable. And although PioneerInABox (Kate Duffy) gets busted (she claims to function as if in the 1860s, yet she’s online), she manages to lure interest. Even Amanda’s (Blake Davis) age-questionable Old4U75 appeals to a prospective beau.
The show, a fascinating concept, is well-structured and is imaginatively directed by Frank Caeti. It is also, of course, hilarious, though a strong strain of sympathy runs through it. And even though the show has been running for months, the performers have fresh energy. These performers are more interested in telling their story than in “being funny,” so the laughs come from the audience’s self-recognition and not from any obnoxious stage-hogging shenanigans.
The troupe sings and dances—and not badly—to enhance several of their “scientific” points about romantic behavior. A few minutes of improv at the end of the show reflect the performers’ well-honed chops.
Locational cautions: The venue is in Hollywood where street parking has a two-hour limit, metered until midnight on Fridays. The show is a mere one hour, but it undoubtedly will start a few minutes late. In addition, the theater is upstairs, and the site has no elevator. But if you’re swift and spry, head on up there for a dose of reality. It will probably provide you with more than several hearty belly laughs. It might also make you weep for mankind.
August 19, 2013
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