Festival '90 : STAGE REVIEW : L.A. FESTIVAL : A Dreamlike, All-Night Wayang Kulit

It looked less like a Los Angeles Festival audience than a group of disaster refugees--about 900 people carrying blankets, sleeping bags, futons, pillows, backpacks, picnic hampers and paper bags stuffed with food or clothing into the Los Angeles State and County Arboretum late Saturday night.

On view: the only all-night Wayang Kulit (Javanese shadow-puppet) performance of the festival.

Some of the spectators headed for the center bleachers; others sprawled on the lawn behind the outdoor platform stage or huddled on the front of the stage itself. Many wandered nomadically, comparing the shadow-screen illusion out front with the backstage reality of one man (Radyo Harsono) masterfully manipulating all the puppets, providing their voices and cuing the large percussion orchestra.

This performance represented more than just an expansion of the previously reviewed two-hour version of "Arjuna's Wedding" by the Jogjakarta "Court Art of Java" company. By its nature, a shadow play seems dreamlike, a conjuring trick--but played from 10 p.m. to5 a.m., it grows into something approaching a wondrous, shared hallucination. Shouldn't we envy a culture that teaches its history, literature and philosophy that way?

An evolving sense of context also proved a major plus in the seven-hour marathon. Thirty minutes of speech (with virtually no puppet movement) introduced the drama, meticulously describing the ideal kingdom about to be placed in peril.

Similarly, at about 2 a.m. Harsono sent in the clowns (three of them) for an hourlong scene that included playful, enlightening digressions on the characters' lives "at home" vs. the exotic customs "here." An invaluable adjunct to his insights and artistry: the simultaneous translation and commentary (via earphones) by R. Hardja Susilo.

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