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REVIEW

L. Ron Hubbard's life, set to singsong

The emphasis in 'A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant' is on satire, with gleeful results.

October 22, 2004|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

"Now the sun will shine,

"Now we'll be just fine.

"We have got the science of the mind."

This incessantly reprised refrain fails to convey the analytical anarchy and reactive hysteria that suffuses "A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant" at the Powerhouse Theatre. In its West Coast premiere, this Obie-winning paean to the late L. Ron Hubbard and his, um, legacy plays a wee satiric notion to its zenith, with lethally gleeful results.

A co-production with Manhattan-based troupe Les Freres Corbusier, whose original staging was the surprise New York hit of 2003, "Pageant's" premise could not be simpler. In an airtight hour, 10 children reenact Hubbard's biography and theories with the singsong, Casio-accompanied bounce of countless grade school spectaculars.

After New Age chords sound, Juliet Chia's lights locate an Angelic Girl (Katherine Ellis) on David Evans Morris' wonderful Day-Glo setting. Other diminutive supplicants appear, in monkish robes of homegrown aspect (designed by Jennifer Rogien), to deliver the impossibly upbeat "Hey! It's a Happy Day."

Out of their ranks comes the founder (Kyle Kaplan), who takes his vision quest straight to the bank. The mix of pastorale, Dianetics demo and Bill Melendez "Peanuts" special leaves irony to its audience, ending on a coup de theatre that is thrilling and chilling.

Creators Alex Timbers (concept and direction) and Kyle Jarrow (book, music and lyrics) control their pint-sized conceit with clear-minded subversive purpose. Under Danielle Hartnett's musical auditing, the acolytes are amazing.

Kaplan reveals sage comic chops, as does Ellis' dry cherub. Identical twins Nikki and Jessica Haddad make priceless halves of the brain; Anthony Quinonez's monk and Kristopher Barnett's robot child threaten the kidneys. Jamie Dahlke, Chigoziri Ikeme, Molly Matzke and Mario Quinonez complete a rip-roaring roster of future stars. Their guileless irreverence lingers long after the curtain falls on this instant cult classic.

*

'A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant'

Where: Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 21

Price: $25

Contact: (866) 633-6246 or www.powerhousetheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour

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