Review

'An Invasion of Decency!': A wild pop-up performance in search of meaning

A few eccentric hors d'oeuvres are served before the main surrealist dish in John Sinner’s “An Invasion of Decency!” — a wild theatrical spree that makes a direct appeal to the unconscious.

The site of this pop-up performance event (running weekends through Nov. 13) is a 1920s warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. Audience members are ushered into the cavernous space by a woman in a beekeeper suit (Sierra Laurin Parsons) and parked before screens. 

Photo montages created by the Belgian surrealist artist Sammy Slabbinck reveal a bowl of tomato soup in which a tiny human figure appears to be drowning, rabbits snuggling in bed and a coterie of cats. These images evoke and subvert nostalgia for home while a dimly visible drummer (scenic/production designer James Goodkind) layers in percussive underscoring. 

Our imaginations are clearly being primed for something unusual. Realism has been banished from this offering by Fancyplayground, the new name of Sinner’s company, Theatre Revelation. The production seeks to upend the traditional ways of connecting sight and sound into sense. 

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The main narrative is strenuously nonlinear. The barely discernible outline of a story concerns Mama Z (Julia Prud’homme), a dragon matriarch who is part Joan Crawford and part Divine from John Waters’ underground movie classics, and her four mythically named children — Esmerelda  (Ariel Barber), Grizzelda (Christina Giagos), Brunhilde (Betsy Moore) and Romulus (Eddie Vona).

The domestic discord is choreographed rather than plotted. Video cameos by John Fleck (who plays a twisted milkman) and Alan Mandell (who portrays with ghoulish femininity Great Grandma Cora) deepen the multimedia madness.  

Performance collages of this type have a long lineage. Richard Foreman, creator of metaphysical kaleidoscopes, is a modern master. The work of the Wooster Group, Peter Sellars, Robert Wilson and the late Reza Abdoh demonstrate the profuse possibilities of this postmodern aesthetic.

“An Invasion of Decency!” is a bit too diffuse in its effects. Visually, the production is a perverse wonderland, at once austere and flamboyant, campy and menacing. But the environment created by Sinner’s febrile design team sets up a theatrical promise that is never fulfilled.

The costumes by Sinner and Francine Brazeau are like couture birthday cakes that are more intriguing than the characters inhabiting them. Sinner’s frantically fractured storytelling, in truth, is no more concentrated than a deranged drag show.

Mama Z lounges on a giant bed that fills one section of the all-white performance space. A prime candidate for a remake of “Valley of the Dolls,” she flips through vintage magazines and routinely cries out for her tray with white wine and all kinds of pharmaceutical goodies.

The stories of individual family members are bleary. Flight and return, freedom and dependence, maternal savagery and filial sacrifice are running themes. But the hairstyles of these children — think Marie Antoinette coiffed for a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion show — prove to be more fascinating than their choral chanting.  

A theater of images becomes monotonous when lacking the conviction of a guiding vision. A late montage of world suffering — including the refugee crisis and the struggles of Iraq war veterans — hardly redeems the highly stylized randomness.

As a fusion of theatrical languages, “An Invasion of Decency!” is a cause for optimism. Sinner is developing his company’s adventurous theatrical vocabulary. The next step is figuring out what he wants to communicate. Already, however, Fancyplayground is living up to its new name.  

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“An Invasion of Decency!”

Where: A newly renovated 1920s warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. (Google Maps: "W. 12th Street & Midway Lane, Los Angeles, 90015")

When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; ends Nov. 13

Tickets: $35-$40

Information: www.TheatreRevelation.com, email TheatreRevelation@hotmail.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes 

charles.mcnulty@latimes.com

Follow me @charlesmcnulty

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