Friday, July 27, 2018

What Happened When

Echo Theatre Company and artistic director Chris Fields take chances. The beauty of the space at the Atwater Village Theatre complex is that it's extremely flexible. Over the years I've seen very creative work done there with the arrangement of the audience to the stage changing all the time.  Daniel Talbot's short one act emerges on Amanda Knehan's intimate set: Jackson Pollock splatters and a huge iron bed. The audience sitting practically on the stage sets an uncomfortable scene. 
Joey Stromberg, Ian Bamberg
and Libby Woodbridge
Photo by Darrett Sanders

Chris Fields directs three characters: Will (Joey Stromberg), Jimi (Ian Bamberg) and Sam (Libby Woodbridge) all shiver in a huge iron bed.  Jimi plays with a flashlight that must represent something, though I have no idea what it might be nor why one of the production stage lights flickered indiscriminately.  A long rambling speech by Will reminded me of some of the stories we've heard George tell Lenny in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.. however my impression after wading through the interminable "F Word" salted liberally throughout each of the actor's lines (which seems endemic in the speech of many folks today), I was reminded of Michael McClure meeting Sam Shepard, but only in passing and though quite natural, after a while just annoying.  When I asked another patron after the show if he knew who McClure was.. or if he'd heard of The Beard, he just shrugged his shoulders, I knew that my references might be a bit obscure. To his credit, he had heard of Shepard! These are gritty characters, related and deeply committed to the ideas of the play. There's a touch of David Mamet in the mix as well.

On the up side, the actors were totally absorbed in the text:  who is alive and who is not. Maybe Jimi is the soul survivor? Details are  painted in such subtle strokes that much of the exposition is lost.  I saw another theatre critic cupping his hand to his ear and he was closer to the stage than I was.   Another reviewer with a huge tablet seemed to be transcribing the entire text of the play, an unintentional distraction as she was taking notes in the front row a few feet from the action. 

The playwright calls this piece "a prayer" which is not intended to do anything but relate his memories. He imagines the audience sitting in the dark, absorbing the angst, the fears and foibles of his characters as they struggle with their lives.  Jimi is a kid, there's been parental abuse. The slacker older brother, Will, has gotten 'Amber' pregnant .. that outcome is sad.  How Sam factors in was not clear to me. It's dark and cold and frustrating and deep and wide and because the author has offered a disclaimer, asking that we simply observe, here we are. As an acting exercise, this is a wonderful workout for these actors. As a play that  intends to have meaning, it's important to remember that exposition only enlightens if it's all coherent and understood. "It's not going to try to entertain," writes Daniel Talbot.  In this aspect, the play succeeds. 

By Daniel Talbot
Directed by Chris Fields
Echo Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
8PM Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
through August 23, 2018
Tickets and information: 
310 307 3753

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