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Theater Review

1894's Satirical 'Love Council' Goes From Sexy to Somber

November 06, 1996|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The idea that sexually transmitted diseases are a punishment from an anthropomorphic God gets a full-length satirical treatment in Oskar Panizza's "Love Council" at the Odyssey Theatre.

Ron Sossi's staging of this curiosity from 1894--freshly pertinent in the age of AIDS--is intoxicating. But the play's central conceit is so overextended that its intellectual edge eventually becomes dulled.

Christopher Durang addressed the same subject in a monologue from "Laughing Wild," later adapted into a sketch that was recently seen at South Coast Repertory as part of "A Mess of Plays by Chris Durang." Compared to "Love Council," Durang's sketch is a more incisive and efficient way to attack their common target.

Nonetheless, Sossi's amusingly carnal and richly detailed spectacle for "Love Council" keeps the audience wide awake, regardless of opinions of the play's thesis.

Sossi inserted some narrated excerpts from Panizza's legal defense of his play into the script to put it into context. Perhaps he was afraid that some people just might not get the joke. Because of the serious tone of the end of the play, that fear may be justified.

Anyone easily offended by caricatures of Christian icons or by sexually graphic action should steer clear. (Incidentally, the program notes that this production used no government funds.)

The play's action opens in heaven, as a new angel (Virginia Worley) is learning the ropes. She looks like a leading character, but she's forgotten soon after God (Logan Ramsey) arrives.

God is old, decrepit and losing his wits. He's accompanied by his ailing, ineffectual son Christ (Mark Colson) and the hard-nosed Virgin Mary (Mimi Lieber)--the brains and the power behind the throne.

Back on Earth, it's 1495, and the world is awash in sexual depravity, led by Pope Alexander VI (John Durren) himself. When God hears about this, he descends to take a look, along with Mary and Christ.

They're shocked--shocked. Alexander's court life is one ongoing orgy. The heavenly trio enlist their old colleague Lucifer (Daniel Zacapa) to think up a punishment. The cast gets to play Lucifer's pet devils (Judy Lipschultz gets credit for "torture devices" and Rozlyn Moore had fun with the costumes) on the heels of playing orgiastic libertines. What fun!

After auditioning too many other partners, Lucifer selects Salome (Georgia Simon) to contract the syphilis bug from him during intercourse. He then sends their beautiful, silent daughter (April Breneman) out to infect the world.

Abetted by Miguel Angel Camacho's mystical lighting and a probing soundtrack, the ending is sobering. The play's comic charge and sexual buzz fade away, and the satirical intent is muffled--as if Panizza began to believe that his fantasy might be true.

* "Love Council," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. except Nov. 17 and Dec. 8, 2 p.m. $18.50-$20.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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