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A Mythical Journey Toward Knowledge

April 13, 2001|JANA J. MONJI

The term "cloud-cuckoo-land," from Aristophanes' "The Birds," has come to mean an imaginary place where problems do not exist. Yet in the visually pleasing "CloudCuckooLand," at the Gascon Center Theatre, there are problems in the play's world and the play itself.

Conceived by Jane McEneaney and written and developed by the M.Y.E. ensemble, the piece uses various creation myths and dance, puppetry, storytelling and musical traditions from around the world to illustrate a journey toward knowledge. Jay Gravatt and Kathleen Edwards provide a lush, imaginative score.

The Spidergoddess (Shano Palovich) has created a wondrous world for Aroe (Doug Brandl). But he has grown lazy and takes it for granted. Now she wants him to earn her next gift--a mate, Maya (Dorcas Roman)--by answering three questions.

On his journey, Aroe along with his bird, Vogel (a colorful hand puppet designed by Leslie K. Gray, animated by Brandl), learns about different myths of origin.

McEneaney strives to share the wonder of each tale, but while each episode has its own charm, they don't easily reveal a cohesive whole. The audience isn't led to the answers to the three questions, and the exact motivation of the villain isn't clear. Brandl's Aroe is delightfully innocent, if slightly dense. His childlike wonder is in contrast to the posturing but nonthreatening presence of Frank Spinelli's evil Capucio. Roman's Maya is appropriately desirable in a chaste way, but her passivity seems to draw on more traditional concepts of womanhood that contradict the dominance of the mother-nature figure, Spidergoddess.

Although not all the dancers were synchronized and not all the costume choices by Kharen Zeunert work well, many moments are worth seeing in what seems to be an evolving idea needing more development.

* "CloudCuckooLand," Gascon Center Theatre. 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 28. $15. (310) 322-3142. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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