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THEATER REVIEW : Far From a Dream : Messy plot makes 'a little Meditation'--a musical promoting higher consciousness--confusing.

January 07, 1994|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robert Koehler writes regularly about art for The Times

WOODLAND HILLS — "a little Meditation," at the Richard Basehart Playhouse, is a musical that deserves its lower-case title. The last term one could associate with this ragamuffin piece of work is capital.

For a show promoting "higher consciousness," everything is pretty much in the basement. It is so low, in fact, that the entire plot is actually a kind of con: Our hero, Russell (Greg Safel), though presented as a soldier of fortune who magically travels into a future land called Essencea (get it?), is actually a pilot named Robert who has crashed and is dreaming the whole story.

Nothing, though, in the book and music by Maximum Mix, Buddy Mix and Christopher Barnhard really fulfills this ersatz "Wizard of Oz" plot device. No one in Robert's actual life--vaguely presented as Lakota tribes people and their friends--clearly corresponds with the Essencean world he dreams. Absolutely nothing links up; not the best way to develop anyone's higher consciousness.

Instead, "Meditation" amounts to a patchwork New Age pop opera murkily directed by Mark McQuown and filled with solemn turbaned spiritual guides; the evil and good daughters (Licia Shearer and Christine Scherpf, respectively) of the High Priest (James Blevins); and something known as The Essence (Carole Love), who stands in a cave with a shredded white wig covering her entire head and whose profound utterances are mostly drowned out by the over-amplified and tinny synthesized music.

You get the idea.

Oh, but there's more. There's evil daughter Leleah, whose numbers are invariably bump-and-grind variations (Shearer, at least, is the only singer here who invests any passion) on Leleah's bad-chick ways. There's the impossible-to-follow Essencea plot, eventually sending Russell into a chamber of mirrors looking for the good daughter, Lelissa, whom he loves. There's Michael Roth's ugly set design (mostly a background of cheesy-looking rocks) that, by the way, doesn't include a chamber of mirrors. There's the muddy and ear-piercing sound system (care of Nikkodo U.S.A.) and the needless miking of the cast.

This show loses track of its identity, which presumably revolves around Robert / Russell. No 1994 guy in jeans, not even Safel's nice-seeming soldier of fortune, could compete with a futuristic fairy-tale-style sibling rivalry. So Robert literally gets lost in his own dream and lets Leleah and Lelissa take it over. Rather than the helpful good-evil ethics of the fairy tale, though, we're offered nothing more than New Ageisms like "follow your heart."

Now, while that's a fine phrase, it's an empty message for a spiritually concerned show. And it's hard to see how any of this has anything to do with Robert: This is no dream any respectable Freudian would touch, and this is no show any respectable dramaturge would have a clue knowing how to solve.

Where and When

What: "a little Meditation."

Location: Richard Basehart Playhouse, 21028-B Victory Blvd., Woodland Hills.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 30.

Price: $9-$15.

Call: (818) 704-1845.

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