‘Science, Primitives’ Surprises at Towne


As the name suggests, “Science and the Primitives” at the Towne Street Theatre tackles the clash of cultural and philosophical opposites but in unexpected ways.

When an idealistic but naive explorer (Mark Laing) sets out in 1885 to establish his Utopian vision in the wilds of South America, he embodies the era of Western imperialism with its pre-Freudian faith in the supremacy of rationality. The stage seems set for a lesson in multicultural tolerance as he gets his comeuppance at the hands of the savages he hopes to civilize.

But playwright Bernardo Solano is after less predictable quarry. The would-be conqueror soon finds himself trapped in a remote cave, where his journey takes a more inward path. Mixing elements of Indian mythology and archetypal psychology in a highly stylized allegory, the play becomes a surreal descent through the psychic muck beneath the veneer of reason. From the hero’s initial imbalance, his quest leads him through chaos, psychic dismemberment, reconnection with the soul and eventual rebirth in “a timeless age with a truer nature.” Picture “On the Verge” meets Carlos Casteneda, and you’ve got the idea.


Raf Mauro’s staging for this ambitious material makes good use of his agreeable ensemble’s talents but shows the telltale symptoms of metaphysics-on-a-budget, with an abundance of leotard-clad performers proclaiming “I am Flame burning in the sea” and whatnot.

Sam Galici is an engaging presence as the play’s sarcastic blind narrator, while Nancy Renee proves sympathetic as the hero’s Indian mate. Also featuring versatile Sandra Lora and Jonathan Craig Williams, the cast cycles through multiple roles as the hero’s spiritual allies and opponents, including a soaring eagle, a sensual serpent, a sinister jaguar and a crafty bat. Looks like all those “become-an-animal” exercises in acting class turned out to be a good investment after all.

* “Science and the Primitives,” Towne Street Theatre, 799 South Towne Ave., Los Angeles. Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Dec. 18. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours.

‘Mayfly’ Takes Look at Broken Families

Amid the antique clutter of a former stagecoach-depot-turned-private sanctuary, an unlikely stab at intimacy brings momentary clarity to the chaotic lives of a lonely recluse and a self-absorbed slacker in Judy Montague’s “Dance of the Mayfly.”

The winner in Attic Theatre Ensemble’s 2nd Annual New Plays Festival, this tightly constructed drama is a serious-minded meditation on splintered families and their legacy of alienation. What it needs, however, is a point of entree for audience sympathy.

The teen-aged protagonist (Gil Johnson) tries to keep his mind on learning something about the mother who abandoned him. Seeking answers from her one-time friend (Susan Hochtman)--a sullen, inflexible crank who refuses to go to her own mother’s 70th birthday party--he improbably ends up having an affair with her instead. The characters’ emotional trajectories are less distinct than the plot logistics in Mitch Beer’s staging, which never manages to make these two--or any of their dysfunctional friends and relations--particularly likable.


* “Dance of the Mayfly,” Attic Theatre, 6562 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday-Dec. 10, 8 p.m. Ends Dec. 11. $12-$15. (213) 469-3786. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.