Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor are gorgeous names. The attractive performers they belong to are also known as the Theatre of Cultural Odyssey--a rather lofty description of goals that's a tip-off to self-image.
Ackamoor and Jones have dropped into the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble with two shows they've successfully taken around the country and to Europe: "The Legend of Lily Overstreet" (or the misadventures of a peek-a-boo dancer in San Francisco's Tenderloin) and the more curious "Suppositions on History."
(A third show, "Potpourri Noir," has been set aside for this run.)
"Lily" is based on the all-too-real life experience of Jones who found herself, in 1979,forced to take on the peep-show job to support a daughter.
It is a stark feminist statement about the brutal psychological as well as physical and verbal sexual traumas heaped on women by marauding men, presented with admirable candor (and plenty of nudity) by the charismatic Jones (the dancer), unobtrusively backed up by Ackamoor (the musician). It is also a superficial (very) inquiry into the nature of eroticism.
There is much to admire in Jones' pride and feminist self-assertions ("A woman does not demand her independence, she creates it") and in her capacity for embracing her angers ("As a woman I realize we are always being eaten--or we are serving").
There is less to admire in the composition of the piece, which feels scattershot and haphazard. And while Ackamoor plays on an impressive array of percussive instruments decoratively set up center stage, his solo riffs on the saxophone are more exhibitionistic than mellow, more harsh than hot, and undermined by a persistent tendency to repeat himself.
As for "Suppositions on History," it very simply does not live up to its title. While the idea seems to be to trace a history of music (with an emphasis on black music and especially jazz), the show loses its way on any number of detours.
Here Ackamoor shares the stage more evenly with Jones (sweetening his sax, though still indulging in too much repetition), but "Suppositions" is too derivative of "Lily" in form, vaguer and less tantalizing. It also supposes little and provides intimations of musical evolution that are a far cry from anything so cogent as a history.
The naked truth about "Lily" is that it's almost there but not quite: A very good idea in need of being much better presented.
And "Suppositions," at least at present, is a rambling sequence of musical motions with few penetrating ideas to connect them.
All of which would be less of a problem if the performers were approaching their tasks more rigorously. Both Jones and Ackamoor have the talent with which to come through, but they lack self-discipline. They do everything a tad too long, a tad too broadly, a tad too self-importantly.
They desperately need a sharp director to shape and edit their material; a stern choreographer to keep Jones (who sings very well) from giving us movement that ultimately becomes less than interesting; a lighting technician to brighten up the stage, speed up transitions and keep the performers out of the dark where they now end up too much of the time.
It's that sort of peripheral inattention to detail that eventually sabotages the potentialfor quality.
Instead of two-hour-plus shows with an intermission, Ackamoor and Jones would do themselves (and us) a favor by doing a faster 90 minutes at a stretch. This would not only tighten up their act, but also better focus our attention. And 90 minutes well engineered is worth 120 all over the map.
Performances at 12111 Ohio St. (near Bundy) in West Los Angeles run through Jan. 20, with "Lily" playing Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and "Suppositions" running Thursdays (8:30 p.m.) and Sundays (7:30 p.m.). Call 213-826-1626 for reservations.
CAP Rhodessa Jones, Idris Ackamoor in "Legend of Lily Overstreet.'