Many theater groups describe their work as "experimental." But in "This Theatre Now," Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions has earned the modifier in its best sense.
This fascinating triptych of performance pieces--part of an ongoing series in a Hollywood storefront space--challenges our everyday notions of theater with striking mixtures of sound, movement, text and video. The results are sometimes astonishing, sometimes disturbing and never less than provocative.
Viewers may find the first piece, Dain Olsen and Mike Biel's "Bisyntion," the most discomfiting. Here, five video monitors reveal eerie, surreal images while loudspeakers blare a jarring hybrid of industrial rock and metallic noise. At times we also see two male figures, one of them nude, writhing in the dim light onstage.
What does it all mean? Probably nothing in particular, which one imagines is the point. This is not about telling a story but creating an atmosphere--in this case, one much like those in Francis Bacon's nightmarish paintings. The creators' stated goal is "to induce psychic terror"; the effect by final crescendo certainly raises anxiety levels.
The tension is broken in the second piece, "Western Landscapes: Part 1," in which creators Ernie Lafky and Mike Bell (with fellow performer Elizabeth Rainey) comically deconstruct Howard Hawks' classic Western "Red River." By lip-synching climactic scenes from the film (projected on an adjacent wall), the troupe immediately establishes an ironic distance from the cultural icon.
But their masterstroke comes in revisiting one famous scene in which two cowpokes compare revolvers. Lafky and Bell, clad in rustler gear, re-enact the exchange using the exact same words but shifting gesture and vocal emphasis. The homoerotic import becomes hilariously clear.
"Blue Sonata" is as challenging as it is unassuming. Here a five-member troupe led by director Tanya Blood Hinkel improvises performance based on musical form--but does so with little musical accompaniment.
The effect is often stunning. In one vignette, the performers provide a silent, movement-based demonstration of harmony and counterpoint, moving first in unison and then gliding into a series of individual yet related "melodies." It's a quietly intriguing way to end a memorable evening.
* "This Theatre Now," Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Today-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. (213) 957-1777. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.