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Back to turn icons upside down

No one is safe when Ennio Marchetto picks up his paper cutouts. He returns to the Geffen Playhouse with twists on staple caricatures.

August 01, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

The late Martha Graham once said, "The unique must be fulfilled," which may well make Ennio Marchetto the most satisfied nonesuch on the planet.

In "Ennio," performance artist Marchetto, co-director and designer Sosthen Hennekam and the most selfless paper cutouts in show business history return to the Geffen Playhouse, the site of their record-breaking 1999 engagement, and again create a knee-slapping tour de force.

Audiences unfamiliar with the Venetian-born Marchetto will be unprepared for what lies in his storehouse. Drawing equally from commedia dell' arte, drag balls and Disneyland, he seizes the stage in one outsized cardboard costume after another, sweetly upending popular icons through the ages.

First seen in nightshirt-clad dreaming mode, Marchetto doesn't need words. His dancing-mime's body and liquid rubber-face speak volumes, and the spot-on timing of his gestures and expressions bespeaks an art that conceals art.

Marchetto gets invaluable assistance from Hennekam's extraordinary lighting (a dazzling show in itself) and zigzagging soundtrack, which provides content without missing a backbeat or split-second splice.

Then there are those costumes, which conflate paper-doll clothes and every Tower Records window display ever installed. Their considerable effectiveness is doubly enhanced by the ruthlessly funny order of their programming.

One hesitates to describe too much, though returning fans can rest assured that most of Marchetto's previous side-splitters turn up again, albeit with some riotous twists.

Like Marchetto's Eminem, who with a flick here and a fold there, transforms into disco's most indelible survivor. Shirley Bassey's thunderous "This Is My Life" ends as a tribute to television's longest-running current sitcom. Marchetto's desecrations of Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion also return, retaining their incisive satiric punch. Ditto the Mona Lisa, defying physics and tongue depression, and Madonna, and the Three Tenors, ad infinitum.

Audiences needing profound topical weight from their comedy are missing the point of Marchetto's guileless approach, that of every kid who ever did a living room pageant for the pure joy of making people laugh.

*

'Ennio'

Where: Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood

When: Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4 and 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m.; Aug. 10, 2 p.m.

Ends: Aug. 10

Price: $34-$46

Contact: (310) 208-5454

Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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