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THEATER BEAT

Cohesion is missing in 'Bites'

September 05, 2008|David Ng, David C. Nichols

An anthology of 11 short avant-garde plays, "Spider Bites" is a strange and sometimes impenetrable theatrical experience that features an approximately even hit-to-miss ratio. Though often self-indulgent, Jacqueline Wright's mini-dramas at Theatre of NOTE have the good manners to be brief and to rarely overstay their welcome.

The strongest segments tackle genre tropes with a revisionist gusto. "Pops" flips the biker revenge fantasy on its head by casting a middle-aged woman (a galvanizing Lynn Odell) in the role of the leather-clad, profanity-spewing protagonist. Ultraviolent and mordantly funny, the play cleverly deconstructs macho stereotypes while ransacking the grindhouse for punchy laughs.

"George and Carrie" tells the story of a downtrodden office drone (Scott McKinley) who finds existential solace in the embrace of a co-worker (Odell, transformed into a dowdy secretary). A narrator (David Wilcox) recounts the tale in a distanced style that removes all traces of sentimentality from this crisis tale.

Many of the plays fall victim to over-conceptualization and abstruse dialogue. In "Sleeping Spider," a little girl (Kirsten Vangsness) holds imaginary court with her drawings as her mother berates her for defacing the walls of their home. "Milk" features a vaguely crazy woman (Vangsness) dressed in a soiled wedding gown and nursing a doll while conversing in gibberish with a friend.

Strikingly designed by Teresa Shea and resourcefully directed by Dan Bonnell, "Spider Bites" packs numerous visual marvels into a small space. But its lasting impression is of a playwright still searching for coherence amid a creative brainstorm.

-- David Ng

"Spider Bites," Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 4. $18-$22. (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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Infidelity as war approaches

Blunt symbolism collides with magical realism in "Sona Tera Roman Hess" at the Lounge Theatre. Dennis Miles' poetic study of a family beset by the wages of infidelity as war encroaches is an imaginative attempt to merge multiple theatrical styles into an original dramatic expression.

Director Kiff Scholl's ambitious staging and resourceful cast are certainly vivid. Aging, demented Sona (Kathleen Mary Carthy) establishes an idiosyncratic tone in her first soliloquy before the curtain of designer Davis Campbell's impressive set. Addressing cats as "pigs," flaunting her triumph over death in the face of the darkness hanging over the house, this character, like the unspecified country and era, hovers somewhere between T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett.

Enter pregnant Tera (Dawn Greenidge), Sona's daughter, and impulsive Hess (Ian Crossland), the stepson with whom she ran away, and the whimsy darkens. With the arrival of embittered Roman (Greg Wall), mother and children's husband and father, respectively, Miles' narrative evokes "Desire Under the Elms" by way of Euripides. Agitating this collage are four visiting relatives (Adam Pena, Jen Kays, Cloie Wyatt Taylor and Peter Barent Lewis), circus performers whose giddy counterpoint to the central scenario is the play's best element.

Matt Richter offers atmospheric lighting, Becky Grajeda's sound design hits each point, and Suzanne Klein's patchwork costumes are inventive. Yet the unifying thematic spark to bring the stylistic elements into cohesion proves elusive. The extended Act 2 ballet by the circus folk (choreographed by Lindsay Martin) has an undeniable fascination, there's cracked humor from them and Sona throughout, and the wartime metaphors are hypnotic. However, the net effect is as much display piece as incisive dramaturgy. It's a noble effort, and devotees of Miles shouldn't miss it, but the degree to which "Sona Tera Roman Hess" grabs average theatergoers will vary.

-- David C. Nichols

"Sona Tera Roman Hess," Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 21. $20. (323) 960-7864. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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