Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Alone at last

September 03, 2007

Troy Dunn and Sharon Gardner
Photo: Paul Robenstein 2007
Labor Day weekend is a bit of an oddity performance-wise, and one’s options can seem limited in the pause before the Fall season really gets into full swing. (More on that later this week.) However, there are still some very worthwhile shows going, and it is no surprise that one of them comes from the LA institution that is City Garage under the direction of Frederique Michel and her compatriot, designer Charles A. Duncombe. This time out, they have chosen to stage Heiner Müller’s Quartet in a translation by Marc von Henning. Müller’s project is an adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses with an eye to more 20th century concerns. Or, in Müller's own words, “a reflex on the problem of terrorism, using material which on the surface has nothing to do with it.” In other words, he is looking at the relationship between a passion performed over and over until devoid of meaning other than to inflict pain on others, particularly in the face of God.

The work is stripped down to two characters, Valmont and the Marquise who play not only their own parts, but those of all the other characters and at times each other’s roles. There are two accompanying “players,” added by Michel, who deliver lines on occasion and occupy physical space when it is called for. It’s not hard to see how this avant-garde stuff straight out of the GDR can unravel quickly but in the assured hands of Michel and her excellent cast everything hangs together. Troy Dunn’s Valmont easily washes away Malkovich (not to mention Colin Firth) in a shifting and nuanced performance while Sharon Gardner‘s Marquise is riveting throughout in either male or female format. Duncombe's striking set and deft use of color make the production as visually stimulating as it is intellectually. Leave it to City Garage to come up with a challenging winner even in the bitter end of Summer. Catch it now through September 23rd in Santa Monica.

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