If Matt Groening’s cartoon characters Akbar and Jeff teamed up with the Firesign Theatre, the results might resemble Laural Meade’s “Leopold and Loeb.”
This Anodyne Ensemble production of the latest deconstructive vaudeville from the author of “Harry Thaw Hates Everybody” upends Chicago’s infamous 1924 collegiate thrill-killers with gusto.
The anarchy begins upon arrival, as a tuxedo-clad MC (the magnificent Erik Patterson) surveys the attendees. Entering the black-box space, where pianist Shanghai Lily (Angela Kang, a hoot) hammers out a dusty ‘20s standard, you could cut the post-Weimar atmosphere with a chisel.
“Let’s get underway, shall we?” says our host, initiating a surreal vivisection of the “culture of crime,” by way of the two title subjects.
Make that four title subjects. Writer-director Meade personifies Nathan F. Leopold Jr. and Richard A. Loeb’s sadomasochistic relationship and murder of teenager Bobby Franks via gender-bent multiplication. J. Marvin Solomon’s “Babe” and William Watkins’ “Dickie” are refracted throughout by Uma Nithipalan and Sabrina Bernasconi in male drag.
The cohesion this quadruple act requires is daunting, and its players are amazing, assaulting one another and the audience with infectious abandon.
Meade’s staging is typically imaginative, the designs working as one, and Ken Roht’s choreography invaluable.
What is missing is emotional point, as the piece is cerebrally arresting, and certainly entertaining, without making us care. Of course, that may be the point, and the riotous theatricality recommends this work, regardless.
“Leopold and Loeb,” NoHo Actors’ Studio, 5215 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 and 10:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m., except May 18 at 7 p.m. Ends May 18. Mature audiences. $15. (323) 692-9455. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.