'Robinson and Crusoe': Timely Absurdist Fable at Barnsdall

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two men are adrift on a rooftop in the ocean. They are strangers to each other who speak different languages--hostile and wary men in military fatigues, from different countries. Survival depends on their ability to communicate, to work together. Will they?

With slapstick humor and poignancy, "Robinson and Crusoe," a timely absurdist fable for children at Barnsdall Art Park's Gallery Theatre, reveals the superficiality of sociological barriers to human connection.

Written by Nino D'Introna and Giacomo Ravicchio and originally produced by Italy's youth theater Teatro dell'Angolo, this new English adaptation is by playwright Shem Bitterman. It is directed by Peter C. Brosius, and performed by the Mark Taper Forum's professional youth theater company, the Improvisation Theatre Project.

Cast members Jerry Tondo (as the American) and Valente Rodriguez (speaking a doctored Andean Indian dialect) execute their intensely physical roles and their quiet moments with conviction. After one onstage scuffle, a young boy in the audience asked, "Are they ever going to trust each other?" When the men stopped fighting, the boy said: "They understand now."

Though the message is powerful, its delivery is somewhat compromised. An intense scene in the middle shifts the balance of the play; it takes awhile to regain its rhythm. And, while set designer Richard Hoover's shingled roof is boldly realized, the suggestion of ocean surrounding it is ineffective. Staging that takes place on the back of the roof, or actually in the "ocean," looks the same.

Still, this is superior youth theater, both in subject and performance. Margaret Anne Dunn contributes evocative lighting design; Kathleen Waln did the realistic costumes.

Admission is free at 4800 Hollywood Blvd. Saturdays at 11 a.m., through March. Then the show reopens (with paid admission) April 10-21 at the Taper Too. Tickets: (213) 972-7337.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°