Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Comedy, This Summer

May 29, 2008

Kasey Mahaffy, Rob Nagle, Louis Lotorto in Taking Steps
Photo : Henry DiRocco/SCR 2008

It always seems to me that the Southern California theater picks-up in the summer. Maybe it just seems that way to me since there is less competition from music events for space in my mind during this time, but it is ever thus. As if on cue, there are two really strong offerings right now I’d like to draw attention to. Nothing says summer like an Alan Ayckbourn comedy, and South Coast Repertory , like many other local companies in the past, is happy to oblige. Taking Steps, directed here by Art Manke, receives an attentive and generous staging from the Orange County company. Steps dates from the the late 70s and like Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves, it is also preoccupied with spacial games – here all three floors of a decaying Victorian mansion occupy the same stage simultaneously. Characters cross each other obliviously and engage in other sight-gags like jogging around a pole at times to represent a spiral staircase. Manke has decided to aggressively exploit the late 1970s setting complete with disco music at the intermission, which works well, if for no other reason in that it helps make sense of rather the out-of-date sexual mores and social cues that populate the plot. Rob Nagle, Kasey Mahaffy, Bill Brochtrup, Kirsten Potter, Louis Lotorto, and Emily Eiden make up a fine cast that handles the physical elements of the production with ease making everyone seem gangley and clumsy in a substantially physical production. Accents are sable and unforced throughout which is an achievement in my book - if you are going to do them, get them right, which they do. While the whole thing could have been a notch or two more maniacal, it’s well worth seeing and a fun afternoon.

Of course, if you like your comedy with a bit more serious bent, there is a quite good play receiving its West Coast Premiere now at the Boston Court Theater in Pasadena. Jason Grote’s 1001 is perhaps the most ambitious play to appear here in greater L.A. since Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson in its sheer scope, brazenness, broad agenda and purpose. A densely plotted tale of lovers telling stories and the way telling stories shapes our sense of self melds elements from 1001 Nights with a modern twist on the Scheherazade legend in a work that contains everything from a Middle Eastern parody of Vertigo to Osama bin Laden dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Add to this cameos from Jorge Luis Borges, Gustav Flaubert, and the voice of Alan Dershowitz and you may begin to get an idea of just how much is going on here. The intersecting and frequently self-referential storylines rise and disappear in a non-linear sequence in a work that is simultaneously thoughtful and laugh-out-loud funny. It may be a little broad at times and sometimes is too smart for its own good, but it’s gutsy and never treats the audience like idiots. There are many really excellent performances here including Monka Jolly’s Scheherazade and a very nice turn from Jason Chanos who was covering the lead role of Alan on Thursday. These are two faces I would love to see more of on stages around town. Of course, credit is due to the very capable hands of director Michael Michetti who continues to be behind the best work in town over and over again. 1001 runs through June 9 and is definitely worth a trip to Pasadena.

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