Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Mlle. God" at AVT

The Ensemble Studio Theatre / LA’s “Mlle. God” by Nicolas Kazan inaugurates a bright new space for theatre in Los Angeles.

EST/LA’s Artistic Director Gates McFadden, best remembered for her role as the alluring Dr. Beverly Crusher on Star Trek: TNG, along with Tim Wright of the Circle X Theatre Company have made a considerable investment to bring quality and challenging theatre to the community. The new Atwater Village Theatre is tucked away in a burgeoning industrial/residential/arts area located on Casitas Avenue between Glendale Avenue and Fletcher Drive in Atwater. Two waiver spaces and a smaller performance space are well appointed and look to become a magnet for the arts in Glendale.

Kazan’s play features the amazing Annika Marks as Lulu, the hot to trot “amoral but naive young woman whose insouciant eroticism inspires lust and violence in those around her.” So says the cut line of the 1929 Louise Brooks film “Pandora’s Box.” The rise and inevitable fall of Lulu is beautifully examined in Kazan’s script based on the Brooks film which was based on a bawdy German play by Franz Wedekind. [German Theatre Scholar Professor Emeritus Kenneth W. Rugg points out that Wedekind was generally known as "Frank". Kazan refers to him as "Franz" in his program notes. In any case, The Lulu Plays are well remembered by Mr. Kazan.] Kazan says in his program notes that Wedekind worked and worked to revise his early 20th Century piece (The Lulu Plays) to meet a social standard that would allow a staged production. It never happened. We are fortunate for Kazan’s vision and that the EST/LA company has dedicated itself to presenting challenging theatre. As McFadden says, “Somebody has to do it.” The playwright, son of director Elia Kazan, speaks in his own unique voice. It is succinct and worthy of an audience.

PR for the show announces “Not for the faint of trousers.” and it’s true. This is an adult piece of theatre. The expert direction of Scott Paulin guides his actors directly through what in less capable hands could become a muddy route. Casting Annika Marks as the irresistible Lulu makes the show. Her absolute dedication to this at once amoral, yet sweet and enticing young woman flows through nuance after nuance while literally flaunting her brazen sexuality in our faces. It’s wonderful, especially the Flash as Lulu turns upstage to torment her artist suitor, Melville, (excellent Keith Szarabajika in the Muses cast… double casting for this show: Muses and Models), who, in his forties, is much too old and too much in love with her for his own good.

Act I "Pleasure" explores how Lulu manipulates and enjoys the men she has seduced. She numbers her prey. Melville is Number Nine. Charles (Andy Lauer), number 36, is, at once enamored with Lulu but has found Harriet (Harvardesque Kim Chueh) whom he intends to marry. We meet other lovers and applicants as the story moves toward what may be an inevitable climax in Act I. Charles’s brother, Trib (Tasso Feldman, trying just a little too hard) arrives and falls to Lulu’s charms. Bright spot in this scene is the appearance of The Prince (almost as naked as Lulu, Kareem Fergusen) who takes stage and flaunts his own brand of seduction.

Act II “Punishment”, turns south as the theatre is, literally, transformed into a dark gray arena. Video again is used to good advantage as Lulu discusses her ‘situation’ which could mean big trouble for her. As she meets her licentious keeper, Lewis (Jon Kellam); her turncoat brother, Kip, (big old Aussie, Will Harris) and another hot suitor, Eleanor (Heather Robinson), Lulu remains the vamp, never apologetic. She is never not her authentic self. With the appearance of The Governor (tough and powerful, John Nielsen) we become afraid for our heroine. It’s all about power, after all. It’s all about how one remains true to one’s self that prevails.

Professional and appropriate sets and lights by Richard Hoover and Production Design by Jason Thompson work beautifully. Director Scott Paulin’s choices are exquisite. Strong acting for the most part. Kazan’s excellent script: provocative and poetic. Two casts: Models and Muses should entice true patrons to see both versions of the show just to compare performances. Annika Marks plays Lulu in both casts.

Mlle. God by Nicholas Kazan
The Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
LA, CA 90039
Through March 6, 2011
Thursdays through Sundays
Tickets: 323 644 1929
$25.00 Top

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