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THEATER | REVIEW

From Russia, social commentary

Young playwright Vassily Sigarev's `Ladybird' bares all -- poverty, despair and humanity -- in a post-Soviet world.

February 16, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

No one wants to live in the apartment building that stands next to a cemetery in this provincial Russian town, so the structure has devolved into a last refuge for the truly desperate, and its nickname, "Dead and Alive," is losing its meaning. Dead down there, alive up here. Or the other way around. As one resident says, he's not sure which is which anymore.

The bleak poetry of the setting comes courtesy of Vassily Sigarev, a young Russian playwright whose work is championed by London's Royal Court Theatre and is being discovered in the wider West. His "Ladybird" arrives in the States in a tense, moody presentation by the new Rushforth Productions in the rented rumpus room/ bar area of the Bootleg Theatre.

Poverty is grinding away at those who've gathered to give 19-year-old Dima (played by Patrick Mapel) one last drunken bash before he heads off to the military. It doesn't take much more than a glance at skimpily dressed Lera (Sarah Utterback) to guess how she must be earning money. She has brought along a nominally better-off cousin (Jennifer Sydney). Also nominally better off is a thuggish black-marketer (Ned Mochel, performing, like several of the others, in a slightly heightened, comic style), while at rock bottom are a strung-out neighbor (York Griffith) and a middle-aged philosopher-lush known merely as the drunk (Jeff Perry).

Full of pipe dreams and despair, "Ladybird" calls to mind the social commentary of Chekhov, O'Neill, Mike Leigh and David Mamet, among others. As adapted and directed by Yasen Peyankov (working from a translation by Sasha Dugdale), the piece is spoken in American idioms, with no attempt at accents. This tends to universalize the story, though perhaps at the loss of too much Russianness.

Richard Hoover's set design exposes the apartment building's spindly skeleton, while Jaymi Lee Smith's cold lights and Louise Munson's Western wannabe costumes complete a sad picture.

Hope is in short supply, but humor bubbles up, and one senses that Dima, at least, hasn't been entirely stripped of his humanity. In Rushforth's gritty production, this nightmarish depiction of post-Soviet life is riveting and eye-opening.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Ladybird'

Where: Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays

Ends: March 17

Price: $15

Info: (323) 769-5245, www.ladybirdtheplay.com

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

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