Part environmental theater fantasy and part sound and light spectacle, "Most Wanted" finds the predictably provocative Collage Dance Theatre exploring ideas about regimentation, freedom and escape at the historic, abandoned Lincoln Heights Jail in East Los Angeles.
After thumb-printing and wrist-banding her audience members like inmates, director Heidi Duckler divides them into subgroups and marches them off to different cellblocks under the supervision of LAPD look-alikes. This experience alone might be memorable in such a huge, dark concrete cave, barred in every direction. However, at the Friday premiere, it took awhile before the spectators settled down and took advantage of their right to remain silent.
Soon, however, the events staged in sites within the site make their effect. A sequence titled 'The Cage" juxtaposes fear of imprisonment with memories of life outside by showing dancers desperately climbing the bars of a narrow corridor while, nearby, a romantic dinner for two turns murderous.
In "Insecurity Station," a jail guard played by John Pleshette becomes as trapped and helpless as any inmate, interrogated by two blandly threatening figures on video monitors--both also played by Pleshette.
More bitter irony colors the "Solitary Refinement" section, in which audience members sit inside small cells and consider the punishment or parole options available from a house menu.
Through all this, projectors bombard the walls with cliches that turn nasty behind bars: "Come Back Soon," "Call Me When You're Free," "Wish You Were Here." In the finale, an endless corridor becomes a pathway to hell as the dancers serve as anonymous projection screens for this kind of babble, handcuffed together as a soprano moves among them singing about being "wild and free."
A night of sad illusions and grim realities, with many, many talents contributing to its success. Among them: video director Hali Paul, writer-designer BJ Krivanek, poet Merridawn Duckler and composers Robert Fernandez, Claudius Bruse and Carla Lucero.
* "Most Wanted" continues Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Lincoln Heights Jail, 421 N. Avenue 19, East Los Angeles. $12-$18. (818) 784-8669. Secured parking available.