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THEATER REVIEW

Silence is golden in 'Gioconda'

October 26, 2002|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Writer-director Randy Schulman breaks theatrical ground in "La Gioconda," his frequently brilliant world-premiere piece at Stages Theater Center.

Set in Italy -- and later France -- in 1911, "La Gioconda" is essentially a staged silent movie, starring Schulman and his wife, Delcie Adams. Schulman plays Vincenzo Bocca, a woebegone Little Tramp type who adores the winsome Francesca (Adams). Francesca loves Vincenzo, but her father, General Giovanni (Kate McLaughlin), has promised her to one of his officers, (the crisply villainous Kevin Gregg), a womanizer and a cad.

On Francesca's wedding day, General Giovanni jokingly comments (on a title card, of course; no words are ever spoken) that the day Vincenzo steals the Mona Lisa and brings it back to Italy is the day he can have Francesca. At which point, the action devolves into an increasingly surreal caper, with a chase through the sewers of Paris and intrusive appearances by famous horror-film characters. Full masks obscure the expressive faces of many in the cast, and the emotional thrust of Schulman's scenario dribbles away into bizarre side plots.

That's a shame, because the first act and parts of the second are otherwise exquisitely realized. Schulman's occasional segues into the surreal and the deliberately anachronistic only enhance the story. It's when the surreal spins into silliness that he disappoints.

Schulman's wonderfully innovative style makes up for his story's shortcomings. An inspired physical comedian, Schulman takes pride of place in this large and talented company. Adams, a Mary Pickford-petite gamin with soulful eyes, is also perfectly cast. In Schulman's stringent staging, the actors comport themselves with the grace and exactitude of trained mimes, while a huge and proficient design team ensures just the right look for this vintage black-and-white "film." Adams, Nino Ameri and Nani Stone contribute wonderful costumes, with the white faces and black lips of Buddy Head's makeup design adding greatly to the period look.

Particularly effective is the sound design by Schulman and DE3 of Polyrhythmic, a blend of vintage tunes, Fellini-esque musical scores and modern-day techno.

*

La Gioconda

Where: Stages Theater Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Ends: Nov. 30

Price: $20

Contact: (323) 465-1010

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes

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