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Reflections from aloft 'Cloud 9'

May 09, 2003|David C. Nichols;F. Kathleen Foley

Heightened topicality refreshes the sexual fireworks floating "Cloud 9" at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre in Hollywood. Caryl Churchill's 1979 examination of the corollaries between British repression and colonialism has ample relevance to the current climate.

"Cloud 9," a sensation since Tommy Tune's celebrated 1981 off-Broadway staging, is a wildly surreal morality farce.

Act 1 charts imperialist hypocrisy in 1880 territorial Africa via gender-bent casting, with a white actor playing a black manservant and a doll as youngest child Victoria among Churchill's sly conceits.

Act 2 jumps a century to Thatcher-era London (though the characters age only 25 years), with the evolution of characters ending in a metaphoric embrace.

Director Harry Mastrogeorge's staging sports nifty designs and overall solid performances. James Morrison's shift from Victorian paterfamilias to his gay son is absolute; ditto Blake Lindsley's switch from Galsworthy-worthy Gorgon to unapologetic lesbian.

Susan Savage amazes with her Act 1 dual roles and Joyce Grenfell-flavored Act 2 matriarch. Don Winston's Act 1 version of the matriarch is sublime, upstaging his latter-day hustler. Ben Livingston's uproarious sensual predator dissolves into pallid yuppie, Jordan Marder's riveting servant into grandstanding tot. Ione Skye's Act 1 son shines, but her grown Victoria must battle memories of her scene-stealing inanimate predecessor.

As ever, Churchill's epigrammatic conception outstrips her overlong and underdeveloped construction. Act 1 is tickling and airtight, recalling Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Things slacken post-intermission, the monologue-laden trajectory straining for significance.

So "Cloud 9" remains less profound than witty but still recommendable, certainly to first-timers.

-- David C. Nichols

"Cloud 9," Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 15 . Mature audiences. $20 to $25. (323) 856-4200. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

*

'He Pounces,' and things turn surreal

Over the years, Ken Roht has made quite a name for himself on the Los Angeles theater scene, both as a collaborator to experimental theater maven Reza Abdoh and for his wickedly witty choreography for such shows as "Pinafore," the hit Gilbert & Sullivan parody at the Celebration Theatre.

But it is as producer of his own theater pieces that Roht has become most widely renowned. "He Pounces," Roht's most recent effort, presented by Roht's own ensemble, Orphean Circus, is a streamlined effort running little more than one hour. In that brief interval, Roht turns our heads around several times, to dizzying effect.

The evening is very much a collaborative effort, but Roht holds sway as creator, choreographer, lyricist, co-composer and general overseer. His able collaborators include music director John Ballinger, a half dozen or so composers, several A-list designers and a remarkable ensemble, including Roht himself. The press notes assert that Roht's primary theme concerns the human need to "conquer and be conquered," but the show itself is an inchoate melange of a decidedly surreal stripe. Whimsy predominates, but the mood can turn dark in an instant. Splicing short sketches with full-blown musical production numbers, Roht samples a blur of subjects, from nonsensical musings on the meatiness of a "Big Blue Cow" to a disturbing meditation on the aftermath of child molestation.

Occasionally, didacticism mars the mix, as in an over-the-top anti-gun sketch that fails in its attempts to be broadly comic. And some of Roht's lyrics were lost on opening night, due to a combination of faulty enunciation, overloud music and amplification problems.

But Roht's athletic, tightknit ensemble is otherwise remarkable. These agile performers glitz up their outlandish material with an incongruous pizazz that is truly memorable.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"He Pounces," the Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Ends May 20. $12. (213) 381-7118. Running time: 1 hour.

*

Cheeky tale needs to 'Fish' for more

The Red Echo Group, a theater company new to Los Angeles, hopes to emulate the innovative techniques of the Actors Theatre of Louisville in "The Humidity of Fish," its local debut at the Stella Adler Theatre.

At least, that's what it says in the press notes.

Yet the company members, many of whom worked in the Actors Theatre apprentice and intern program, have a long road to artistic maturity.

Not that director-playwright Charles Forbes doesn't start off strong in his cheeky tale of directionless young friends flailing to find some meaning in their lives. Youthful ebullience and an engaging cast buoy up the proceedings for quite some time as the characters meet, mate, congregate and converse -- often in strangely nonlinear dialogue that initially seems convincingly cutting edge.

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