MICRO URBAN OPERA REVIEW : An Ignorable 'Dents' Plays Downtown

TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

See that four-word label above the headline? We in the newsprint jungle call the line a kicker .

I am writing this report because of the third word: opera . That's my beat.

Micro and urban , however, may make a difference.

The complex yet simplistic work in question was called "Ignore the Dents." Daniel J. Martinez, who bills himself as a conceptual artist, pieced it together on Friday with a lot of help from a lot of friends from a lot of artistic fields--and with a commission from the Los Angeles Festival.

The communal socio-politico-musico-theatrical extravaganza was presented--perhaps improvised would be a better verb--on a relative shoestring at the Million Dollar Theatre, downtown. Not incidentally, this marvelously ornate movie palace normally hosts Spanish-language films.

The films may be good, but the house has seen better days. So has opera. So has performance art, whatever that convenient catch-all implies.

It would be easy to ignore "Ignore the Dents" if the intentions weren't so lofty, and if the mixed-media context weren't so ambitious. Advance publicity gushed about "redefining and demystifying the experience of L.A. street life."

Martinez promised "a detour through the crowded streets where cultural friction and urban debris erases (sic) the faces of the masses." He heralded "the synchronicity of noise, lives and death . . . in harmony with the random tremors that crack the walls. . . ."

He delivered much noise, little harmony.

Martinez claimed in an interview that "each scene (would) follow the history of opera," with independent references to Monteverdi, Bach, Wagner, Verdi, Mozart, Gershwin and even Philip Glass, among others. All this was to be splashed within a quasi-electronic score by Vinzula Kara, amid choreography by Patricia Pretzinger, with texts by Harry Gamboa Jr. and costumes by Diane Gomboa.

Some kicker.

One entered the Million Dollar lobby via cage-like tunnels designed by Liz Young. Once seated on the gum-laden chairs inside, one could observe other people's entrances via closed-circuit images televised on the stage. The overture involved the cacophony of ghetto blasters carried by ringers in the crowd.

The audience was, of course, supposed to be part of the show. Not very surprisingly, part of the audience departed before the end of the show.

The brave escapees fled a sprawling, intermissionless, clumsy, dilettantish indulgence. Its multifaceted message was clear: War in the streets is hell. Unfortunately, most of us knew that going in.

The actors, eager and earnest but mostly amateurish, performed unrelated skits about injustice, alienation, poverty, misery, violence, corruption, persecution and deceit--things like that. Much of the time, the actors executed cliches.

The micro-urban agenda included a pseudo-Mapplethorpe number, a pity-the-homeless interlude, a siege-mentality escapade, an agitprop exercise. There even was a symbolic divertissement in which a globe descended from the balcony so celebrants, mistaking it for a pinata, could run up the aisle and beat it with sticks.

Occasionally a bit of comic relief, or an unreasonable facsimile thereof, limped in.

The theatrical procedures didn't involve much much music. Hardly anyone sang. Virtually no one danced.

Kara's sound track was loud, even to ears stuffed in desperation with wads of Kleenex. The ongoing score consisted primarily of repetitive grunts and gurgles, grumbles and rumbles. These were occasionally offset by recycled fragments from works by the composers cited in the dauntingly clever $3 program.

Martinez called his magnum opus "an opera for people who hate opera." It may be that. It certainly isn't an opera for people who like opera.

"We plan on sinking the city, kicking the door in," Martinez announced a couple of weeks ago.

The city, such as it is, remains afloat. The door is only scuff-marked.

It isn't even dented.

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