Critic's Choice

If Alfred Hitchock turned a graphic novel into live theater: It's the ingenious 'Historia de Amor'

An extraordinary merger of cinematic and theatrical art suffuses “Historia de Amor,” which concludes its North American premiere engagement at REDCAT on Sunday.

This mordant, uncommonly arresting production from Chile’s acclaimed Teatrocinema troupe doesn’t just borrow film and animation elements -- it absorbs them into live performance to create an entirely new form.

Based on French writer Régis Jauffret’s graphic novel, “Historia” unfolds from the point of view of an unnamed English teacher whose obsession with Sofia, a passive young woman he sees on the subway, begins with rape and spirals downward from there.

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In the process, “Historia” creates an unsettling allegory of abuse, dehumanization and the fragmentation of persona in a corrupt society that suggests what might happen if Alfred Hitchcock, Simone de Beauvoir, Luis Buñuel, Roman Polanski and Stan Lee dropped LSD in Santiago.

Using two screens -- a translucent scrim at the apron, another just behind the stage -- on which 2-D and 3-D images are projected, the nonstop shifts in perspective, depth of field, range of motion and chiaroscuro achieved are astonishing. They create a literal living graphic novel by way of film noir, from the wry opening credits to the twisted irony of the pathological protagonist’s final statement.

Invisibly directed by Teatrocinema co-founders Juan Carlos Zagal and Laura Pizarro, performers Julián Marras and Bernardita Montero prove their undiluted commitment and technical precision. His verbal velocity -- the piece is in Spanish with English subtitles -- and hairpin turns of emotional intensity seamlessly meld with her near-wordless eloquence and mimetic agility. (Stage manager Daniel Figueroa briefly but critically appears as Sofia’s new boyfriend.)

Add in an awe-inspiring raft of designers and technicians, with Zagal’s Bernard Herrmann-esque music and Matias Del Pozo’s sound particularly incisive, and you have as jaw-dropping, hard-to-shake an example of New Theater virtuosity as anything L.A. has seen since “André and Dorine” at Los Angeles Theatre Center. “Historia de Amor” isn’t easy in its message or story, but just try to look away.

“Historia de Amor,” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday. For mature audiences. $30. (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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