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Virtual-Reality 'Venus': High-Tech Shakespeare

March 29, 2001|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In its wildly imaginative inaugural production of "Venus and Adonis" at Hollywood's 2nd Stage Theatre, the fledgling Lone Star Ensemble displays two promising qualities--serious commitment to classical literature combined with skillful use of fresh, unconventional staging and technology.

The result is a trimmed but otherwise unaltered rendition of Shakespeare's tragic poem about the Greco-Roman goddess' love for a self-absorbed hunter--reset in a mock-heroic futurist realm of alienated youth and virtual-reality computer games.

Though not originally penned for the stage, "Venus and Adonis" is nevertheless a narrative. Director/adapter James Kerwin has mapped the poem's principal themes of love, eroticism and obsession onto a stylishly visual tale of a teenager (Brian Stanton) addicted to B.O.A.R., a hunting-themed virtual-reality game (wittily named after the wild animal that slew Adonis in the original myth), and the girl (Megan Henning) who tries to initiate him into the flesh-and-blood joys of non-cyber relationships.

In mock-heroic tradition, these descendants are a far cry from their archetypal ancestors--a "goddess" T-shirt does not a deity make, and this gangly lad with his high-tech appendages is no Adonis. Instead, their severed mythological roots are embodied in their virtual-reality avatars (Jennifer Slimko and Travis Schuldt). Dee Dee Hamilton serves as the narrative Chorus.

The performers' youth serves the concept well, though it also limits their facility with Shakespeare's ornately metered six-line stanzas. In this case, though, the sheer ingenuity and intricacy of the multimedia staging triumphs over performance limitations.

*

* "Venus and Adonis," 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends April 22. $15. (323) 650-5111. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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