Review

'The Day Shall Declare It' has dazzling visuals, limited depth

Charles McNulty
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Theater Critic
The play 'The Day Shall Declare It' is a physically dazzling immersive performance that's a bit short on drama

Theatergoing can be such a yawning routine — park, sit, clap, race home like a lunatic.

What's most refreshing about "The Day Shall Declare It" — the immersive theater piece by Wilderness that's presented in conjunction with Los Angeles Performance Practice — is not knowing how to act as an audience member.

At several points during the production, co-directed by cast member Annie Saunders and choreographer Sophie Bortolussi and housed in a Los Angeles arts district warehouse, I found myself scampering from one corner of the enigmatically divided playing area to another.

The performers were engaged in what can only be described as intimate altercations. They were gracious and supple in demarcating space, but I feared getting caught in the melee.

No matter how quickly I scurried, however, there was no possibility of distancing myself from the action. Passive slouching wasn't an option as bodies collided with athletic vigor and grace in a piece that interweaves texts by Tennessee Williams and Studs Terkel on the way work can warp our lives.

Unlike the popular offerings of the British pioneering immersive theater company Punchdrunk ("The Masque of the Red Death," "Sleep No More"), this Wilderness production, which premiered in London in 2014, doesn't require spectators to wander off on their own down spooky, spider-web-filled corridors.

This is more of a guided tour as spectators are subtly ushered from one room to the next — each alluringly arrayed to combine Great Depression-era décor with a contemporary urban industrial aesthetic. Scenic designer Nina Caussa maximizes the effect of her minimalism, creating whole environments from the placement of blinds or an antique bathtub.

A cascading curtain of sand, poetically lighted by Iain Court, is the production's visual pièce de résistance. John Zalewski's multilayered sound design is perhaps more resonant than anything that's spoken by the three-person cast.

Saunders, Chris Polick and Nick Konow, costumed with seductive vintage flair by Stephanie Petagno, are hypnotic in their sexy, surreal maneuverings. But they don't always have enough to work with in their characterizations.

This is a dance-theater collage that hasn't precisely figured out the balance between drama and movement. The opening scenes between Saunders and Polick establish a context (that of a couple falling in love and quickly feeling entrapped by drudgery and responsibility) that the subsequent segments have more difficulty in conveying.

The themes of worker alienation, economic frustration and the resulting obstacles to intimacy and nature are entrancingly physicalized. But "The Day Shall Declare It" is better at dazzling our senses than deepening our dramatic interest or insight.

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'The Day Shall Declare It'

Where: Imperial Art Studios, 2051 E. 7th St., Los Angeles

When: Schedule varies; ends April 11

Tickets: $35-$45

Info: thisisthewilderness.com or info@losangelesperformancepractice.org

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

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