Calavera #4 UBU ROI: ANIMAL HOUSE MACBETH
Man, that felt good.
Sometimes letting yourself go -- giving up all those inhibitions, cutting completely loose, letting it all hang out -- can be soooo liberating. It flushes the system of all your petty grudges and aggravations, all the ill will and spite that's gotten backed up in your psyche. A good primal blast of base behavior blows all that blackness away.
That and it's fun.
I can't testify as to whether Alfred Jarry felt spiritually cleansed after the first performance of Ubu Roi, his infamous absurdist mockery of classical drama and ideals, but 101 years later, after Rude Mechanicals' boisterous, chaotic, noisy, silly, messy, lewd performance of same, I certainly did. The whole affair, with nothing about it even approaching restraint or class, was exhilarating.
Maybe it was the croissant throwing. Being free -- and actually encouraged -- to hurl baked goods at the performers (who were equally free to throw them back at the audience) was without question a thrill, especially for a long repressed, mild-mannered critic like myself.
I suspect, though, that my elation owed less to any one aspect of the event and more to the overall spirit of revelry and license that the Mechanicals instilled in the evening. As with the collective's previous work, this staged "riot" benefited from the participants' sense of play as the essence of theatre. They threw themselves into the piece, wallowing in its crudity, rejoicing in its opportunities for buffoonery, embracing -- nay, giving great bear hugs to -- vaudevillian excess, relishing each cheap gag, each hammy accent, each pie in the face, each cry of "pschitter" that sent dozens of sweetbread missiles rocketing at the stage. They made it a good time, a wild, unfettered party that happened to involve a play, almost as if the rowdy frats of Animal House had staged their own production of Macbeth.
Given the production's raucous ambience, it's something of a miracle that the sense of the thing even came across, but it did, with a number of memorable performances. Barry Miller's Pére Ubu was undeniably crass -- in low, flat tones, he snarled at and smacked over every material good within his reach -- and yet, perhaps owing to Miller's truly sweet personality, you almost found yourself rooting for the jerk. As his, um, worse half, Mére Ubu, Shawn Sides was a screeching hoot, giving me a pretty good idea of what it would be like to see Judy Tenuta play Medea. And, brandishing a honeyed Suth'un accent, Ehren Christian turned his scenes as Macnure into some odd out-take from a Tennessee Williams drama. Every cast member had his or her moment, giving us some delicious comic tidbit -- such as a Polish peasant with a New Delhi dialect -- before succumbing to "death" via a shaving cream pie in the puss.
No, I have no idea what Jarry experienced after his Ubu Roi, and I have no idea what he would have thought of this festive free-for-all version a century after the fact, but I can say that what Rude Mechanicals has wrought with its Ubu is a blast. And it can blow all your blackness away.-- Robert Faires
PASSION AND HEALING: WOMEN ON THE VERGE
Galeria Sin Fronteras, through January 14
Los Angeles artist George Yepes appears to have an affinity for women -- or at least, their faces and hands. With a majority of paintings and prints in this collection, Yepes depicts feminine visages with a tempestuous Spanish flavor and a heated fever resonant of a flamenco dance or bullfight.
In Adelita, the woman's eyes are cast down, her lily-white skin glowing against her jet-black dress. Her arms are crossed at the chest, and each pearly hand grips a red pistol. The print's blood-red background, Adelita's mournful countenance, and the red-hot guns lend the work a decidedly violent feel, as though she just evened the score with her unfaithful lover. In White Woman, a woman nervously touches her chest with long, trembling fingers, her glowing blond hair a sharp contrast to the black locks in the paintings around her. The lady in Blue Woman is a wintry azure, with long smoky hair. The expression on her face is as cool as the icy blue tone of her skin. Even with the manic energy of the thick, short blocks of paint that comprise her, the woman embodies cold detachment.
In Calavera #4, a woman's flame-colored face looks out ruefully, one eyebrow slightly raised, her ruby red lips comfortably pursed. Her fist is curled beneath her chin, one long talon poking upward, adorned with a skull ring. Her ebony hair stands on end, as though she were a black cat trapped in a corner by a bulldog.A blend of thick, taffy-like red and yellow colors stir in the background, blending with the embers in her face. Viewing the work, you can't help feel a bit uneasy, as though the woman really sees you and is casting a spell on you.
That is the gist of many of Yepes' works. He uses fiery reds and golds and thick, short brushstrokes to give his works frenetic emotions that reek of passion and its aftermath, which is sometimes exhilarating, sometimes cruel. Yepes has an intoxicating style, one that is just briefly explored in this small collection. The spirited works are somewhat crowded in the gallery (half the wall space is covered with a Christmas show), making them feel almost stir crazy and confined, as though they might blow at any moment. -- Cari Marshall
MYTH IN THE FLESH: A GOOD LESSON IN WONDER
Planet Theatre, December 20
VORTEX Repertory Company's Myth in the Flesh is just that -- a collection of myths performed by 12 actors using only their bodies and a few props. Combining mythology, dance, and oral history, they perform seven vignettes that are not nearly as pretentious as the play's title may suggest. Instead, Myth in the Flesh is a spirited jaunt into the tales of our childhood and the mysteries of our nature.
One by one the stories unfurl -- peppered with grand Norse mythology, Grimm's macabre fairy tales, Aesop's gentle didacticism -- and though some fare better than others, there are no clunkers among the lot. Part fable, part political satire, Steven Fay's The Proud Rooster details a nasty power struggle between one dictatorial rooster and his restless, fettered underlings. Yep, the cast waddles and clucks about the stage, spouting Marxist ideology along with bizarre fowl flirtations. This blend of commentary, fable, comedy, and plain silliness made it one of the highlights of the evening (which lasted a surprisingly brief hour). There were moments of beauty, too, like the luminous, candle-lit undulation of Amie Todd's visually striking Lindu's Astral Veil (literally a long, flowing bridal veil) and unexpected delights, like the simple kabuki technique used playfully in Paula Gilbert's How Gum Lin Ended the Drought.
Not much eye candy here -- no set, black shirts and pants for every actor -- only the elegance of Brad Butler's spare, evenhanded light design, which turned actors from stark white faces to ivory-skinned beauties with a subtle nudge. More importantly, the actors seemed to be having good old fashioned fun. The nice part about Myth in the Flesh is that it doesn't pretend to be more than it is -- no epic metaphors, no pomp and bombast, just simple, silly, sometimes profound theatre that brings out the child in all of us. The part that likes to be read to, entertained, to laugh and smile, that gapes in awe of sparkling beauty and dazzling radiance. The part that feels wonder and awe, fear at the sound of loud footsteps, the buzz of mosquitoes, the crackle of an old woman's wheedling voice -- the part that, no matter how old we get, could always use a good lesson. -- Sarah Hepola