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'Turn of the Screw' gets stripped down

February 03, 2006|David C. Nichols; F. Kathleen Foley; Philip Brandes

Belyakovich further restricts his performers to a nearly unwavering high-amplitude delivery style that's democratic to a fault -- when all moments are equally momentous, the result is intensity without consequence. Even the muscular choreography that punctuates the dialogue becomes repetitive and fatiguing.

Within these stylistic constraints, the obviously committed performers struggle valiantly to differentiate their archetypal characters (thief, gambler, prostitute, actor, lawyer, etc.) with unique personalities. But only Pasha D. Lychnikoff (who assisted Lee Hubbard with the English adaptation) as the headstrong libertine seems fully at home with the distinctively East European staging approach. The rest are to varying extent ill-fitting projections of Western conventions, the most jarring being Donald E. Lacy Jr.'s depiction of a philosopher-preacher as a curious fusion of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Telly Savalas.

Given the adaptation's considerable liberties, retaining so many characters seems like misplaced fidelity since they're all rehashing the same question: whether to hide behind the comfort of our illusions or face the pain of unshielded truth. What made Gorky's original play revolutionary was its focus on the dregs of society. But in the wake of Brecht, Odets and O'Neill, it's enough to appreciate the play's historical context without dressing it up like Ionesco.

-- Philip Brandes

"The Shelter," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 5. $28 to $30. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 3 hours.

Attractive, erotic, yet numbing

A sort of spoken word melange about female sexuality past age 40, "Herotique-aahh ..." at the Fremont Centre Theatre is purportedly the initial part of a trilogy that its producers intend to franchise, a la "The Vagina Monologues" and "Menopause: The Musical." But unlike its flawed but entertaining predecessors, this attractively packaged erotic bombardment is sometimes more numbing than arousing.

The brainchild of 3 Blacque Chix Production, produced here in association with James and Lissa Reynolds and the California Performing Arts Center, the show's biggest asset are the three "chix": Lola Love, Iona Morris and Mariann Aalda, who co-created "Herotique-aahh ..." and are its sole performers.

All post-40, the women look stunning as they slink, dance and cavort about the stage in designer Fontella Boone's sexy ensembles. Live music, provided by musical director and percussionist Munyungo Jackson and bassist Andre Manga, punctuates James Reynold's formidably crisp staging.

Unfortunately, attractive though the messengers are, the message doesn't always measure up to the medium. The three main characters could have been lifted straight out of a soft porn novel. Morris plays Lady I, "The Goddess of Love & Sexual Freedom," a sultry earth goddess at one with nature; Love is Lady L, "The Dominatrix," a bisexual fetishist with a mean whip hand; while Aalda is Lady M, "The Ex-Stepford Wife," a recent divorcee who comes across as a perkily libidinous Mary Tyler Moore.

All have their galvanic moments, particularly Aalda, whose character is the most engaging. Unfortunately, the overly familiar archetypes, however humorously intended, fail to humanize the repetitively erotic content. As Lady Love croons at one point, "Tease me. Freak me. But don't leave me bored" -- a sentiment heartily echoed by the audience.

-- F.K.F.

"Herotique-aahh ... ," Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 26. $25. (866) 811-4111. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Polished staging by student actors

In a well-crafted revival of Bernard Pomerance's "The Elephant Man" at Burbank's Victory Theatre Center, what began as a showcase scene for director June Chandler's acting students has evolved into a polished staging with some sharply poignant reflections on alienation and the need for human connection.

Those with elephant memories who associate the historically based story of tragically deformed John Merrick with the 1980 David Lynch film adaptation may not expect this predecessor play's more abstract (and budget friendly) approach, suggesting Merrick's deformities through body posture rather than elaborate makeup. Nevertheless, the concept keeps the focus on the civilized soul trapped inside a horrific prison of flesh.

Merrick's innate decency is sympathetically conveyed by Derick Han, who nurtures the character from a humiliated, tongue-tied circus freak to the toast of Victorian society.

Amid handsome period sets and costumes (an antique musical box provides a haunting recurring theme), Chandler's staging forcefully drives home the play's central assertion that Merrick's celebrity came about because others saw in him a reflection of themselves.

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