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Transformative mythmaking

THEATER BEAT

June 15, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley, David C. Nichols, Daryl H. Miller

Performance artist Susan Simpson launches her new Silver Lake theater, the Manual Archives, with "Lead Feet and Nothing Upstairs: A History of the Lifelike," a piece that radicalizes and reinvents the notion of puppet theater.

The 20-seat "micro theater," which has a proscenium the size of an executive's desk turned sideways, may be tiny but provides sufficient scope for this unusual blend of puppetry, film, music and mythmaking.

The story revolves around the Ditto Sisters, identical triplets who leave their rustic native land of Bucolia and immigrate to Los Angeles, a metropolis upon which they have a godlike and profound effect. With the sisters' arrival, everything in the city, from buildings to people, begins replicating. Some find the change nightmarish, but for others, the new culture of mutability proves transcendent.

Also ever-shifting, the plot largely defies interpretation, but while possible themes of urban sprawl and the ethical implications of new technologies may be obvious, "Lead Feet" primarily resonates as a surprising, fitting homage to Los Angeles, that diverse and transformative dreamscape that above all else offers the constant possibility of change.

Many facile hands were required to realize Simpson's labor intensive conceit, which features fantastically elaborate sets that look like what might have resulted if John Napier had detoured into Lilliput. Perched beside the stage, Jackie Kay Knox narrates the action, while Katie Shook, Kendra Ware and Anne Yatco hand-manipulate and voice the Ditto Sisters. Live music, some traditional and some original, is provided by Emily Lacy and Eric Lindley.

The womblike atmosphere and the spacious intervals between set changes might prove a bit sleep-inducing at intervals, but don't expect traditional theatrical notions of pacing and plot to apply to this singular enterprise. While not suitable for young children, Simpson's bedtime story may spark new visions in those who have lost the faculty for dreaming.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"Lead Feet and Nothing Upstairs: A History of the Lifelike," Manual Archives, 3320 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. this Sunday only. Ends June 30. $15. (323) 667-0156. www.manualarchives.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Get ready to laugh at the Groundlings

For a codified statement of why we love the Groundlings, catch "The Untitled Groundlings Project." Dependably funny, largely self-contained, this latest outing from the celebrated troupe highlights writing and ensemble energy to satisfying advantage.

With director Roy Jenkins as our benign referee, "Untitled" follows the time-tested structure. Goaded by the ever-righteous band (music director Willie Etra, Howard Greene and Larry Treadwell), a rotating cast of writer-performers tears into sketches and ad-libs with practiced aplomb.

From the opening, "Driving Mr. Daisy," au courant items take a back seat to accessible targets, as Tim Brennen's instructor inspires Jim Cashman's student by his escalating bad example.

In "Ultimately," stoic champ Brennen and commentator Christian Duguay keep straight faces alongside the fearless Steve Little. Given that his pulpy mug elicits audience shrieks the moment he appears, their deadpan mastery is doubly impressive.

That ease of interplay typifies "Untitled," from the group variations in Michael Naughton and Michaela Watkins' fragrant "Hung Jury" to the range of reactions to Duguay's full-throttle delivery of "William's Song," which ends Part 1 on a wry high.

"Untitled" rather slights topical humor and improvisations, but it certainly shows off the current crop of crazies. Against a ruthless male roster, Watkins and the arch Ariane Price easily hold their own, Watkins' antic teen "Prodigy" and Price as "The Author Herself" especially choice.

And Jeremy Rowley continues certifiable. His Asian self-help entrepreneur in "The Saigon Way" approaches Sacha Baron Cohen, and he knows no boundaries leading his brethren in the gut-busting "300" finale. This musical spoof, like "Untitled" itself, tills little untried soil, but it's vintage Groundlings mayhem.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Untitled Groundlings Project," Groundlings Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturdays. Ends June 30. $20. (323) 934-4747 or www.groundlings.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

'Kid' moves home but goes on and on

Here's a tip to intrepid practitioners who mount an original comedy: You might want your show's running time to clock in at slightly less than, say, "Hamlet."

That's a notion that has eluded writer-creator Chris Econn and director Ryan Dixon, whose "interactive" new show, "The Boomerang Kid," is entertaining and frustrating audiences at the Powerhouse in Santa Monica.

Entertaining, because Econn's conceit of handing out PDAs and enabling the audience to vote on which way the plot will skew is novel and potentially amusing. Frustrating, because with an 8 o'clock curtain, you'll be lucky to get out by 11.

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