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THEATER REVIEW

Digging Into Old 'Garbage'

City Garage revives the play that caused a stir when it opened in Germany.

March 20, 1997|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Garbage, the City and Death" created a big controversy when it opened in Germany in 1985. Protesters said the play was anti-Semitic.

Now at City Garage in Santa Monica, the play looks too dreary and turgid to arouse much of a fuss.

True, there is a character called simply the Rich Jew--a wealthy real estate developer, and not a particularly nice guy. But one shouldn't expect nice guys in a play called "Garbage, the City and Death," and the Rich Jew is no more hateful than most of the other characters. In Frederique Michel's staging, Steven Pocock plays him with a bland facade that steers studiously clear of any ethnic stereotypes.

Also, some of the more hateful characters spout anti-Semitic words, but this hardly makes the play an anti-Semitic statement.

A program note insists that the play demonstrates that "the poison of anti-Semitism and the Nazi inheritance has become even more insidious because now it is clothed in smiling denial." Some of the characters now resent Jews because their presence reminds them of German guilt from events of 50 years ago. It's plausible that Fassbinder was attempting to illustrate this blame-the-victim reasoning as a cautionary note against it.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 21, 1997 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 24 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Actor--The name of actor Gustav Vintas was misspelled in a review of the play "Garbage, the City and Death" in Thursday's Weekend Calendar.

Still, it's hard to appreciate any of Fassbinder's particular points here because the play moans and drones without much focus.

A skinny prostitute (Shiva Rose Ward) becomes the mistress of the Rich Jew, just as her abusive pimp (Carlos Alvarado) turns for sexual solace to another man. The prostitute's parents are potentially colorful characters--he (Gustave Vintas) is a transvestite who entertains the Rich Jew despite his own anti-Semitism, she (Strawn Bovee) is a nag in a wheelchair.

But the narrative is often ignored in favor of vague, verbal breast-beating. Perhaps Denis Calandra's English translation has something to do with this. Michel attempted to enliven the action with some sharply stylized choreography, but that, too, often looks pretentious. "Garbage, the City and Death" is an example of fashionable German despair at its most easily parodied.

BE THERE

"Garbage, the City and Death," City Garage, 1340 1/2 4th St., Santa Monica. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Ends March 30. $17.50 (except Sundays, pay what you can). (310) 319-9939. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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