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Review: 'The Anatomy of Gazellas' shows a clear divide

Exercise Physiology

If you attend “The Anatomy of Gazellas,” presented by Playwrights' Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, you might want to hunker down in your seat and pay close attention. That way, you won't as likely be concussed as the engine of plot whizzes right over your head, leaving you wondering what the heck happened. 

You may not be as dumb or inattentive as you feel. It's just that playwright Janine Salinas Schoenberg's world premiere play is pitched in a gray area between the fascinating and the frustratingly obscure. 

The play is split into two extraneous stories that never convincingly cohere. The link between the two narratives is the character of Alex (Elia Saldaña), a pregnant young naif imbued with oddly cabalistic wisdom.

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When her meth freak mother dies under mysterious circumstances, Alex winds up in a halfway house with other homeless young outcasts – wounded Gaby (Jacqueline Real), ditsy Melanie (Christine Marie Mantilla), and butch Sandra (Carolyn Zeller), who nurses an unrequited crush on Doña Lydia (Cristina Frias), the saintly religious zealot who runs this establishment more as a millennial cult than an ordinary halfway house.

At intervals, we witness Alex's escapades with Hopey and Maggie (Elizabeth Frances and Bianca Lemaire), sybaritic wild girls – possibly imaginary – who take Alex on a magical, mystical road trip that smacks of a Dionysian revel. Oh, did we mention that Alex sports gazelle horns somehow linked to her shamanistic and “cursed” lineage?

Aided by a superb design team, director Jon Lawrence Rivera neatly addresses the play's vagaries, balancing the playful and the mysterious in a thoroughly nifty production that contains a wealth of ingenious effects, most notably Keith Skretch's knockout video design. And if we sometimes suspect that Schoenberg and Rivera are merely messing with our heads, we appreciate the sheer novelty of their gonzo vision.

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“The Anatomy of Gazellas,” Playwrights' Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 19. $25. (800) 838-3006. http://gazellas.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

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