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‘Kruel’ proves to be punishing

Times Staff Writer

Set 11 months in the future, Michael Mizerany’s two-character dance drama “Kruel Summer” makes an intense paranoid fantasy out of the combination of new government powers and old societal prejudices.

As performed at Highways Performance Space on Thursday, it imagines the Patriot Act being used to bomb, imprison and torture American homosexuals, with the paramilitary perpetrators ultimately blaming their crimes on foreign terrorists.

It gives Mizerany a familiar role -- the suffering victim of a monstrous homophobic conspiracy -- and allows him plenty of latitude for impressively fluid, soulful solos. Formerly a fixture on the local modern dance scene, he’s now a San Diego-based artist, and his dancing remains as technically and expressively commanding as ever.

However, his speeches seem to come from another person entirely: someone far less in touch with his deepest feelings and more obsessed with sentimental homilies and obvious ironies.

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When he’s ordered to move heavy rocks from place to place, you remember the pointless, exhausting tasks imposed in Nazi prison camps. And when he’s stripped, blindfolded and humiliated by Scot Tupper’s character, the images evoke the shocking photos and news stories about Abu Ghraib.

But so many of Tupper’s vicious acts spring from his character’s personal demons that “Kruel Summer” misses perhaps the darkest truth emerging from that Iraqi prison: the knowledge that some ordinary Americans will efficiently and impersonally victimize others when that’s added to their job descriptions.

Reinforced by the mournful music of Arvo Part, a rape and a nude dream scene are artfully stylized: slowed down and informed by a sense of sculptural design.

Not so most of the physical abuse on view, which is performed with the punishing realism of an action movie.

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That’s a mistake, tactically and artistically. As we watch Mizerany repeatedly hurled to the floor, we stop worrying about the character he’s portraying and start worrying about Mizerany himself.

With good cause: On Thursday, he injured himself in a fall about five minutes before the end of “Kruel Summer” and looked in considerable pain during the curtain calls. A Highways spokesperson reported that he was being taken to a hospital.

Friday morning, Mizerany said that he had dislocated his shoulder and that the rest of a planned three-night engagement would be canceled. Highways artistic director Leo Garcia said he hoped to reschedule the performances later in the season.


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