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STAGE REVIEW : Comic Lunacy Reigns in ‘Rampant Stupidity’

Instructions for watching Los Trios Ringbarkus at Theatre/Theater:

Avoid wearing your finer evening wear.

If you do, bring a towel.

If you like living dangerously, sit in the first two rows.

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If you don’t, try the rear.

Believe only this on the program’s cast-and-credits page: “The show will be performed relentlessly without a break.”

Relentlessly, though, is too civilized a word, one that gives away the Anglo-Australian background of Stephen Kearney and Neill Gladwin, the duo that makes up Los Trios.

“Bolero” is relentless. Los Trios’ show, “Rampant Stupidity,” is legalized mayhem.

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It’s Kearney and Gladwin’s genteel veneer, in fact, that produces their performance’s powerful dislocation. You tend to laugh (and gasp) much more at two fellows in black-tie duds trying to keep a stiff upper lip while their world falls apart, than you would if they projected casualness. Americans would struggle with this material.

Those duds look like they’ve been sent through an old exhaust pipe, then stomped on by a hundred crazed wallabies. Kearney and Gladwin enter seemingly without a shred of dignity left to them. Where can they carry this?

Very, very far. The show is built on a simple gimmick: What if you had a music performance to put on (in this case, “Carmen”), and the musicians failed to appear? You’d kill time as creatively as possible. The show must go on, even if all you have is stage fright, a box of crackers and a book to read.

From such innocent-sounding beginnings comes a performance that intrigues, amazes, disgusts and startles. At it’s lowest, “Rampant Stupidity” is an “Animal House” fracas for those with a taste for Kafka.

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At its highest, it’s one of the rare accomplishments in what might be called Looking-Glass Theater. (Andy Kaufman’s is-this-guy-kidding-or-is-he-serious routines was an example.) Comic lunacy is pushed past your expectations, and actual lunacy might be the result. Are they losing control, or are they that far ahead of us?

Los Trios fiddles with every conservative instinct in the theatergoer. Familiar stage icons--doors, food, umbrellas--are consistently thwarted from playing out their conventional comic purpose, only to be put to use in much funnier ways.

Sometimes it’s based on the dare of pushing things before they exceed good sense. The next step, in the framework of slapstick, is to see what exceeding good sense means . Is it wise to put an entire box of crackers in your mouth? Was it wise for Buster Keaton to stand in front of a falling building?

Kearney and Gladwin never pause to let us take their shtick in and chew on it. They build routine on routine with the combined senses of high-tech speed we get from thrill rides and of the nerve-setting drama one used to experience at a carny. They display the bodily timing of world-class clowns, yet aren’t afraid to contain the comedy to their faces: Kearney’s, with glasses on at all times (amazing in itself), is an elasticized mask of terror; Gladwin’s is the look of the lone, confused man in the universe.

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Rocky Heck’s lights are as simply effective as the gimmick that gets the whole escapade going. Once you become involved in the show’s nonsense--and you will, make no mistake about it--the thought dawns on you that this isn’t nonsense at all. If the performers have broken through their stage fright, then we’ve broken through our fear of being in the audience. When was the last time a theater piece raised that subject?

At 1713 N. Cahuenga Blvd., on Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m., Saturdays, 10:30 p.m., indefinitely. Tickets: $10. (213) 871-0210.


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