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THEATER REVIEWS : 'Angels': Sound and Fury a Year Too Late : Despite its best intentions, this naive political theater offering fails to ignite.

April 28, 1993|JAN BRESLAUER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Angels on Fire" is a good example of what's wrong with most L.A. political theater. It's got yeasty material (the 1992 riots). The cast and director are hot. But the conception, writing and politics of the thing are so naive that its best intentions get doused.

A collage of text snippets and rudimentary group choreographies, "Angels" is a production by a loosely knit group that calls itself the Platform. Written by Charles Degelman, Lisa Loomer, Susan Rubin, Armando Molina, Kip Gilman and Shishir Kurup (who also directs), this show is part of the Artists' Collective's festival at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. It is performed by a mostly staunch 10-person ensemble that includes several of the writers.

The moments and tidbits that are strung together here to stand in for a text range from itty-bitty character monologues or duologues in which the actors play L.A. citizens expressing their post-riot emotions to archly self-righteous moments when the entire cast stands face to face with the audience.

Given the problematic script, Kurup has done yeoman work--those accusatory cast lineups, which tend to read as false endings, notwithstanding. He keeps the energy up and the audience's eye roving about the stage, with deft shifts in tempo and tone.

The format--which intercuts the blips of uninspired writing with blackouts--is basically "Laugh-In" without the laughs. A Korean-American shop owner, a cholo, an African-American intellectual or a Latino cop gives you his or her take on things--"Yeah, I feel anger"--the lights go out or music kicks in, and the beat goes on. What little humor that seeps through is hogtied before it's out of the gate, as if yuks might undercut the gravity of The Message.

Though several segments parody local TV news' reductio ad soundbite-um of the known world, "Angels" lapses into the very format it's trying to indict. Cathartic as this material might have been a year ago, it's now utterly stale. And it never goes beyond the anecdotal.

Worse than preaching--or pandering--to the converted, though, "Angels" tries to reinvent the political theater wheel. It's bad enough that the group has blithely ignored much of what there is to learn from the European experimentalists of the teens and '20s, American political theater of the '30s and more recent Marxist theater theorists such as Brazilian Augusto Boal. But it has even managed to ignore what could be gleaned from U.S. political theater from the '60s forward.

There's a sentimental romanticization of the flower child era just under the skin of this production. Yet the writers do little toward unearthing, investigating or even reconsidering the forces behind the emotional and experiential responses they're chronicling. One traditional function of political theater, after all, is to liberate through education. But this shaky Platform is no teach-in.

* "Angels on Fire," Los Angeles Theatre Center Theatre 4, 514 S. Spring St., downtown. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. $8-10. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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