The Off Main Street Theatre in Santa Monica is, in today's jargon, user unfriendly. It has a large pillar in the middle of the audience area, forcing an odd seating configuration, and the static in its sound system (over which voices are badly muffled) sounds like bacon frying.
This hardly helps "Rasputin, Isadora and Mao," a remorselessly impenetrable evening of performance art by Winston Tong--as pointless as it is pretentious.
The curtain-raiser is a brief Oriental love feast and pas de deux between two anatomically correct puppets, handled without exceptional dexterity by Tong, and ending in a fatal stabbing. It is faintly reminiscent of Nagisa Oshima's 1976 film "In the Realm of the Senses" and remains the evening's best bet.
The main menu that follows (after a 12-minute intermission) focuses on three perplexing events connected by the most slender of threads: Each happens to involve a revolutionary figure. Period.
The lights come up first on a naked Tong who, slowly and deliberately, puts on the clothes and hair--and presumably the personality--of Rasputin. He looks annoyed with himself, carries a violin case from which he extracts a four-inch violin, expresses a Ping-Pong ball from his mouth and stuffs it into a plastic chicken pulled from the violin case, while a voice over the loud speaker intones: "His second experience with second sight. . . ."
After a few more such mind-boggling revelations, Tong/Rasputin reaches into the bottomless instrument case and finds a plastic pork chop. Unable to eat it, he explores other possibilities--such as putting it to his head. After one or two unsuccessful tries at pulling the nonexistent trigger, he succeeds, keels over and dies.
End of act.
Discarding his Rasputin disguise, Tong, naked once more, begins a laborious process of turning himself into Isadora Duncan.
"Do not call me a dancer," drones the loud speaker. "I have never been a dancer; all I have is the ideal I was born with. I never taught my pupils any steps; I never taught myself technique. I'm not an artist, I'm a revolutionist." A certain amount of posturing and moving about the stage by Tong/Isadora in wig and makeup and ungainly pink gown, without much aim, art or technique, lends a certain truth to the words. "Lust today, Bugatti tomorrow," signals the end as, once again, Tong keels over, indicating strangulation by scarf.
Naked a third time, Tong, with some help from an uncredited assistant, transforms himself into a semi-dressed Mao Tse-tung. "Sit in a chair in your underwear if you want the masses to understand you"--or something like it--floats in over the dreaded sound system. Tong sits, while, inexplicably, Marlene Dietrich (was it?) sings.
Mercifully, this conundrum runs less than an hour minus the intermission. There is nothing to recommend it. Its significance, if it has any, remains with Tong and Tong alone. The rest of us are destined to stay forever in the dark.
Performances at 208 Pier Ave. in Santa Monica run Wednesdays through Sundays, 8:30 p.m., until May 9. Tickets: $7.50; (213) 399-8105.