Having had the rare pleasure of seeing Joe Chaikin's Open Theatre perform and to have met some of the original members of that group, being reintroduced to The Serpent, first performed by The Open Theatre in 1968, the opportunity to see this iconic masterpiece back on the stage is very special to me. Can we return to the sixties? Can we revist the passions that drove theatre through the political work of The Living Theatre? Through the maze of The Company Theatre's "James Joyce Memorial Liquid Theatre"? The icoic physical work of Grotowski in Poland and the subsequent blasts from The San Francisco Mime Troupe and Ellen Stewart's La Mama?
Director Ron Sossi approaches The Serpent 2020 as the original director, Joe Chaikin did:
Form the ensemble.
Work out the argument.
Assign the roles.
Tighten things up.
In Chaikin's original notes for The Serpent, he tells us that this is not a play, It's a Ceremony.. it's a ritual: a tribute to our past and commentary on the present and then.. what's to come. It's prescient, though somewhat obvious.. That old silver clock that waits for us all.
|The Ensemble Photo by Enci Box|
As the audience enters, Sossi's cast of seven women and five men warm up on the bare stage in rehearsal togs. The ceremony calls for physical, mental and emotional limbering...
Because some of the text harkens back to days well before any of the cast members were on the planet, Sossi has added announcements of tragedies more recent, recited by various cast members: chilling reminders of the times we live in. The cast assembles center stage reciting names. It takes a minute to understand that this performance: this unique Ritual of Theatre, includes our audience, each of us is invited as one actor after another calls out the name of someone seated before them.
We are all in this together. Now.
Each of the segments of The Serpent, turns on a singular event, also referencing assassinations, including how Cain slew Abel. Through repetition and physical movement we relive the murder of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King as well as the murder of Abel. Especially moving is the actors' exercise. We relive JFK and the others that awful November day in Dallas with the Zapruder film repeating in the background. The exercise replays specific moments of the shooting. Each movement has a specific number. As one actor calls out specific numbers the actors portraying the principals assume the precise position of the stopped motions of JFK's death. Chilling.
The title, The Serpent, turns on Van Itallie's take on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The dialogue will have special meaning to those who wish to examine what the myth is really all about. Dialogue and movements are repeated by The Serpent (six or eight of the ensemble) as it writhes: cajoling and tempting Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
Over all, this ceremony.. this ritual holds up .. Sossi's young cast impressively approaches the same energy that the original cast exhibited. Missing from the cast, The Odyssey lost one of its most dedicated actors recently, Alan Abelew, whose visceral approach to acting harkens back to those early days. He is missed.
For a trip down memory lane, especially for actors who come from the days of appreciating or working with ensemble companies like Chaikin's The Open Theatre or The Beck's Living Theatre or The Company Theatre of Los Angeles, you'll find your muscle memory responding to the movements, the organic trust that is unique to what highly stylized and politicized theatre was all about so long ago.
Celebrate fifty years of dedication to 'important' theatre at The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. It may be a relic, but The Serpent is a history lesson and I, for one, am happy to be tutored. Well done!
by Jean-Claude van Itallie
Directed by Ron Sossi
The Ensemble: Riley Rose Critchlow, Avery Dresel-Kurtz, Joseph Gilbert, Tomoko Karina, Kristina Ladegaard, Marie Osterman, Ian Stewart Riley, Anthony Rutowicz, Keaton Shyler, Ahkei Togun, Terry Woodberry, Denise Yolén, Peyton Young
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
Runs March 7 – May 3
• Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: March 4 (preview), March 25 and April 22 ONLYThursday at 8 p.m.: March 5 (preview), April 9 and April 30 ONLY
• Friday at 8 p.m.: March13, 20*, 27; April 3, 10, 17*, 24; May 1
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: March 7 (opening), 14, 21, 28; April 4, 11, 18, 25; May 2
Sundays at 2 p.m.: March 8, 15, 22, 29; April 5, 12, 19, 26; May 3
*The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
Tickets and information:
(310) 477-2055 Ext. 2