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Fabulous Monsters' tinkering pays off for 'Ramayana 2K4'

June 15, 2004|Philip Brandes | Special to The Times

"Ramayana 2K4," the latest incarnation of the Fabulous Monsters Performance Group's dazzling multimedia transformation of the ancient Hindu myth, returns to its city of origin for a limited engagement at NoHo's El Portal Theatre before relocating to New York for an open-ended off-Broadway run.

Conceived as "an electronica dance drama," the piece is a homegrown multidisciplinary effort enlisting the talents of L.A. theater, movement, music and video artists (including more than 15 composers) to re-envision the 2,500-year-old verse saga of gods who reenter the mortal world of karma to wage a battle of good against evil.

Successive reworkings over the last two years have honed writer-director Robert A. Prior's adaptation into a taut, consistently engaging love story of epic dimensions revolving around Vishnu's blue-skinned human incarnation, Rama (Rich Welmers), and his quest to rescue his bride, Sita (Amahata), from the clutches of the demon-king Ravana (Will Watkins), with Carlos Madrid Mora lending virile support as Rama's brother and helpmate, Lakshman.

Telling their stories entirely through athletic, often sensuous dance to recorded voice-over dialogue and occasional onstage narration, the ensemble transforms the myth's iconic figures -- gods, demons and an army of sentient monkeys -- into richly emotional and sympathetic characters. Choreographer Stephen Hues has miraculously woven diverse traditions of Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern and Western dance -- and even circus acrobatics -- into an eloquently expressive common vocabulary of movement.

Particularly evocative are the devoted duets between Rama and Sita, and the excesses of Ravana and his minions; these demons may be evil, but they do know how to party.

While the show's extensive creative liberties may raise the eyebrows of "Ramayana" purists, it remains respectful of its source without lapsing into campiness or cheap satire. Revisions and enhanced production values have not distracted from the celebratory spirit at the core of this exhilarating bit of stage magic.


`Ramayana 2K4'

Where: El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Ends: July 3

Price: $25 to $50

Contact: (866) 811-4111

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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