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Chopin Meets Hitler in Surreal 'Space'

February 02, 2001|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Playwright Phil Bosakowski died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at age 48. First mounted in 1984, Bosakowski's surreal comedy-drama "Chopin in Space" now receives a belated West Coast premiere at the Sacred Fools Theater. Full of unabashed jingoism and nationalistic rage, the play is a fascinating sociological document of the Polish people's struggle to maintain their identity under the brutalizing Soviet system. As theater, however, Bosakowski's congealed Cold War trifle has gone off a bit.

A swirling historical melange, the play revolves around the central figure of Frederic Chopin (Jeff Goldman), the popular composer who, before his early death of consumption in 1849, made arrangements to have his heart removed and transported for burial in his beloved Poland.

Set "all over the map," the action vaults freely back and forth in time, from Chopin's heyday to the early 1980s. Early in the play, Chopin abandons his Polish sweetheart Marya (Majken Larsson) for the French siren George Sand (Carla Jo Bailey). In France, Chopin and Eugene Delacroix (Tom Chalmers) dabble in the turbulent politics of the day.

Bosakowski's rough historical chronology of Chopin's life soon segues into the fantastic. Chopin interacts, anachronistically, with various historical personages, including Hitler (Paul Plunkett), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (comical Stan Freitag, who also contributes a convincing Groucho Marx and Ronald Reagan) and Eleanor Roosevelt (Pogo Saito). At some point, Chopin morphs into Lech Walesa, who is busily organizing the Solidarity strikes.

Nonsense, if not always whimsy, prevails. At frequent intervals, a Sherman tank (Chalmers) chugs across the stage, with Hitler riding closely behind. A growling Bear (Ariadne Schaffer)--symbol of Soviet oppression--also regularly roars through the proceedings.

If the symbols are obvious, so are the performances in Michael Rainey's ineptly cartoonish staging. A broad acting style is essential to this fractious fairy tale, and many of the actors--Goldman, Saito, Plunkett and especially Freitag--manage expansive yet nuanced performances. Others are not so fortunate, contributing to the atmosphere of amateurism that further mars Bosakowski's already marginal piece.

*

* "Chopin in Space," Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb. 24. $15. (310) 281-8337. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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