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More Sly Humor Than Gore in Barker's 'Crazyface'


Clive Barker fans are legion. But those who have carefully shunned Barker's typical gore-fests, both cinematic and literary, might be happily surprised by Barker's "Crazyface," now receiving its West Coast premiere at the Sacred Fools Theater.

Not that the play doesn't feature its share of the outre, including a sadistic angel and a trio of commedia-inspired clowns inflicting tortures on those who have fallen afoul of church and crown. However, Aaron Francis, who directed and designed this ambitious and impressively realized production, wisely emphasizes the play's mordant humor, keeping its sanguinary elements to a minimum.

A familiar character from European folklore (and the merry prankster who inspired Richard Strauss' famous tone poem), Til Eulenspiegel, otherwise known as Crazyface, is the engaging simpleton around whom Barker's convoluted plot revolves. Til, played with puckish intensity by Mark Schrier, is a ragtag itinerant who roams Europe with his mother and three sisters-in-law--a Brechtian procession reminiscent of "Mother Courage." Unseen by the others, Til's constant companion is a hectoring Angel (Henry Dittman). The Angel, Don Rickles with wings, needles Til into injudicious outbursts that make the witch-hunting peasants very nervous.

Denounced as a madman and under sentence of death, Til flees for his life with his sister-in-law Annie (Tara Platt) in tow. Annie joins a band of fierce female brigands and goes off to complete the circuit of her implausible destiny. Meanwhile, Til, ever the victim of chance, receives a mysterious box from a dying Spanish spy that contains a substance so precious that the monarchs of Europe are willing to fight to the death over it.

Warfare, famine and intrigue soon rage, with Til at the center of the apocalyptic vortex. Barker's dystopian romp encompasses a Cain and Abel conflict, the Machiavellian connivings of an evil Inquisitor, and plenty of slapstick, including a comical interlude with a snorting family of pig farmers.

Chock-full of sly topical references (the mysterious box as a metaphor for nuclear capability, the Inquisitor as exponent of religious fundamentalism), Barker's imaginative but untrammeled parable is unfortunately long-winded. However, Francis and company rise to the challenge of their material with aplomb.

Schrier, the standout of the evening, spearheads a large and gifted cast. Also noteworthy: John Sylvain's lighting, Laura Esposito's costumes, Brenda Varda's original score, Jason Tuttle's sound and Richard Gustafson's masks and props--essential to this vivid, richly disorienting endeavor.

"Crazyface," Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends June 29. $15. (310) 281-8337. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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