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THEATER REVIEW

Light versus dark in a fallen state

'A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings' mixes comedy, tragedy and spirituality to examine moral character.

November 25, 2005|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

Angel, devil or fraud? In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, a strange being falls from the sky, crashing down into a tiny Caribbean village. Shabby and confused, he looks like an aged derelict ... but for his tattered wings.

Adapted by Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz ("Anna in the Tropics") from a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, this P.L.A.Y. (Performing for Los Angeles Youth) production weaves together comedy and tragedy, magic realism, spiritual faith, and the light and dark of human nature.

It's an unusual choice for family theater, and although it takes one significant stumble, the company rises to the challenge, creating, for the most part, a thought-provoking flight of the imagination for children and adults.

On a deceptively simple set by Yael Pardess -- boulders, a table and a roughhewn wall with a circular opening that serves as figurative scene-setter and dreamscape -- two children (Lena Gwendolyn Hill and Matthew Yang King) rescue the winged Afar (Damian D. Lewis) only to have their poverty-driven father, Pelayo (Liam Craig), cage the battered man as a freak attraction.

For Pelayo, need turns to greed as he rakes in cash for the sale of Afar's feathers, eyelashes and blood to villagers demanding miracles and to doctors for study.

When miracles aren't forthcoming -- a woman who has cried for years (a comic turn by Ameenah Kaplan) still cries, a girl's box of prayers go unanswered -- the villagers turn to a new and more enticing attraction: a mystical, multi-limbed "spider" woman, the star of a traveling circus.

The stumble comes in a flat-footed execution of the plot-central circus scene.

Pelayo's reaction to the sideshow atmosphere of voyeurism and exploitation is key. So it is all the more disappointing that what leads to that reaction is awkwardly constructed and prolonged, despite acrobatics from aerialist and actor Dreya Weber, who doubles as the personification of La Luna and Spider Woman. Christopher Michael Rivera, effective as the play's enigmatic narrator, loses his edge as the whip-cracking, stilt-walking circus showman.

Fortunately, director Andrew Tsao and the able adult cast regain their footing. Elisa Llamido is a strong presence as a suffering mother with a sick baby, careening between hope for a miracle and bitter disillusionment. Lewis notably brings a trembling vulnerability to his role as voiceless Afar.

Movement coach Nick Erikson, a founding member of the Diavolo Dance Theatre, guides the play's creative physicality throughout.

Nathan Wang's sound design and percussive original music are an ambient plus, and costume designer Allison Leach adds to the eccentricity with peasant motley, Afar's ragtag wings and the spider woman's bizarre, doll-like limbs.

The play's redemptive resolution, deepened further by light and projections designer Shaun Fillion, is executed delicately enough to evoke tears.

*

`A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings'

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City

When: 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Ends: Dec. 18

Price: $20 to $40

Contact: (213) 628-2772; www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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