Just how the New York Wooster Group figures in such an emphatically Pacific Rim celebration as the current Los Angeles Festival is not clear, unless you attribute its presence to the simple fact that it is a favorite of festival director Peter Sellars.
A good reason at that. And the bemused puzzlement that the group leaves us with fits right in, because absence of clarity is almost a dedicated pursuit of this avant-garde company that trades purposefully in disjointed, carefully researched abstractions.
In the 1987 L.A. Festival, the Wooster Group brought us "The Road to Immortality, Part Two (. . . Just the High Points)." This year, at the Temporary Contemporary, we get "The Road to Immortality, Part Three," otherwise called "Frank Dell's the Temptation of Saint Antony."
To explain--just the high points: Frank Dell was a pseudonym used by comedian Lenny Bruce early in his career; "The Temptation of Saint Antony" is Gustave Flaubert's offbeat dialectical drama, written and rewritten by him over a 25-year span (late 1840s to mid-1870s). You may rush out and buy it, but it won't help much with the Wooster text, which, by the company's acknowledgement, also draws on Flaubert's letters, Ingmar Bergman's movie "The Magician," the incidental writings of James Strahs and personal contributions by members of this small, artistically insular collective.
The work is so esoteric and choppy, so drawn into itself and the preoccupations of the group and its director, Elizabeth LeCompte, that it plays to a specialized audience, by now widely composed of the already converted. (The performances are reportedly sold out, but you may check for cancellations.)
However, to describe these scenographic constructs and collages much beyond content (as in ingredients) and concerns (as in subjective obsessions) is fruitless. Like all abstract creations, "St. Antony" will mean different things to different people, if it means anything at all. It is the images it delivers that stay with us the longest.
In this case, the juxtaposition of so-called reality with videotaped segments has a nice irony. The people in the videos are mostly nude (how better to get attention?) and LeCompte focuses the camera on the sexual differences, including a humorous Dance of the Genitals. This is altogether loopy stuff, harmless (unless nudity offends you) but satirical, and made funnier since Frank Dell (Ron Vawter) does all of the talking. Standing alone at a mike and with uncanny precision, he lip-syncs the men on TV as well as the women. (Why not? At least one of those women sports a neatly trimmed beard.)
It is this sort of visual/aural shock that the Wooster Group feeds on, and that it also delivers in the text. But who would know it? Aside from sheer opacity, there is a problem of inaudibility at the Temporary Contemporary (partly acoustical and partly due to the intentional whispering or muttering of the actors).
Nudity aside, the Wooster Group, along with images, offers a dense theater of body language and sound effects: Buzzers, doors that slam open as well as shut, phones and aphoristic lines dropped like pebbles in a pond. There are references to Tipperary, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Queen of Sheba, "the peace to end all peace," Milan ("so modern, so Sforza"), the Taper, Too, and LSD. Sometimes you wonder if the whole thing isn't LSD-induced.
One particularly striking videotaped sequence shows people swimming above the surface of the water as if they were beneath it. Otherwise, the setting for this "St. Antony" is very reminiscent of the one for "Road to Immortality, Part Two": lots of exposed technical wizardry, TV monitors, oversized naked bulbs, glaring neon tubing and a gridlike stage.
There is even a puppet, a couple of bottomless suitcases and lots of action that pulls the members of this band of artists deeper and deeper into their own world--part hallucination and part inside joke. For the record, the ensemble includes Vawter, Cynthia Hedstrom, Kate Valk, Peyton Smith, Anna Kohler, Michael Stumm, Jeff Webster, Willem Dafoe, Nancy Reilly and Irma St. Paule.
"I'm a little bored," says one of the guys at one point. "I'm a little bored too," responds another. Dangerous words, when so much of the time, you can see the dots but can't figure out how they connect.
\o7 At the Temporary Contemporary, 152 N. Central Ave., tonight and Tuesday, 8 p.m. $25; (213) 623-7400 or 480-3232.