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Theater Review

A Bout of `Delirium' Proves Tantalizing

November 14, 2001|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

It's the kind of room that makes you want to open a window. But there isn't one.

You're in an interrogation room, the unnerving nerve center of "Delirium Palace," a new play currently giving people the oogly-booglies as part of the "Hot Properties" series at [Inside] the Ford, beneath the Ford Amphitheatre.

The room, splendidly realized by scenic designer Jason Adams, tilts up and away from the audience. When one of the two doors is flung open, by characters alternately menacing and panicked, you see red--blood-red walls leading somewhere creepy, in the neighborhood of David Lynch's dancing-dwarf universe.

At the start of Gordon Dahlquist's play, Irene (Lauren Campedelli) is being grilled by Pierson (Christian Leffler). She's amnesiac. She believes herself to be an American doctor, lost in some foreign port city. She remembers a red door, beckoning, and then a white room, people wearing headphones....

But is this Irene, or someone named Magdalena, a professional killer? Surely the ease with which she nearly breaks Pierson's nose suggests the latter. Just in time, the shifty-eyed Pierson snaps his fingers. His assailant passes out cold, and through one door comes Thackaray (wild-eyed Leo Marks, master of the hilarious, heightened physical gesture), asking in a gravelly voice: "Is there a problem?"

In "Delirium Palace" the cat-and-mouse reversals require the cats and mice to change roles continually. Is Pierson Irene's savior, or executioner? Is the Italian woman in the Chinese dress (Ames Ingham) really Italian? When the fifth character, Celeste (Ann Closs-Farley) arrives, it's obvious she's Ms. Big--the mistress of what exactly, though? Some kind of sensory-deprivation think tank?

Playwright Dahlquist loves his oblique games. Not for nothing does the program quote Alain Robbe-Grillet, the man behind the early 1960s maze of pretention "Last Year at Marienbad."

There's an archness to the writing, and before it's quite over Dahlquist's play starts chasing its own tail. Yet it's highly stage-worthy. And this Evidence Room production, staged with wicked precision by Bart DeLorenzo, brings out every ounce of its atmospheric possibilities.

Campedelli brings a mournful gravity to the piece. Leffler and Marks offer extremely effective and blackly funny versions of guys in white coats born to be mistrusted. As contrasting studies in vampdom, Ingham and Closs-Farley fold neatly into the proceedings. The design work is all of a piece, from scenic designer Adams' glimpses of hellishly crimson hallways to the stealth suspense of John Zalewski's sound design.

There's a bit of "The Prisoner" in Dahlquist's where-are-we? musings, along with shards of Pinter's institution-set play "The Hot House." The sexual daydreams (a lot of finger-sucking here) suggest David Lynch or, from the stage, mind-benders such as Jeffrey Jones ("Seventy Scenes of Halloween") or Eric Overmyer ("Dark Rapture"). Dahlquist takes his reality/fantasy questions increasingly seriously. Not all audiences will be willing to do the same, especially since he deploys those questions to edgy comic effect en route.

But a first-rate production is a first-rate production. I'm glad I saw this one. It's proof of the continuing progress of Evidence Room, L.A.'s most valuable rising theater.

"Delirium Palace," Evidence Room at [Inside] the Ford, John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Also: today, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 16. $15. (323) 461-3673. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Lauren Campedelli...Irene

Christian Leffler... Pierson

Leo Marks...Thackaray

Ames Ingham...Delphine

Ann Closs-Farley...Celeste

Written by Gordon Dahlquist. Directed by Bart DeLorenzo. Scenic design by Jason Adams. Costumes by Candice Cain. Lighting by Rand Ryan. Sound by John Zalewski. Fight choreography by Nick Offerman. Stage manager Beth Beecham.

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