Horror, hilarity strike a balance

Special to The Times

One doesn't typically associate experimental German theater with big yuks. However, in "Mr. Kolpert," now in its West Coast premiere at the Odyssey, up-and-coming German playwright David Gieselmann wields a double-edged sword, carving out a mortally incisive sendup of postmodern European corruption and angst, while at the same time striking a lethal blow to the funny bone.

Ralf Droht (Kenneth Alan Williams), a "chaos researcher," and his girlfriend, Sarah (Amy Farrington), are affluent, attractive and dangerously bored. The action begins innocuously, when Ralf and Sarah invite architect Bastian Mole (Thomas Vincent Kelly) and his downtrodden wife, Edith (Jen Dede), Sarah's co-worker, over to their apartment -- an effectively sterile environment wittily realized by set designer Charles Erven. Bastian and Edith don't realize it, but they are the evening's "entertainment." Just what do the Moles make of Ralf and Sarah's claim that they have tortured and killed the women's unassuming associate Mr. Kolpert, now supposedly concealed somewhere on the premises?

It's no coincidence that Ralf is an expert in chaos. He and Sarah dabble in disorder like bored children slinging mud pies at the schoolhouse. It's also no coincidence that Bastian, a volatile and overbearing bully, is the sole voice of moral reason among this thoughtlessly amoral assemblage.

Further exegesis just might find a link between Bastian's relationship with the Moles and Germany's troubled recent relations with the U.S. Dig deeper into Gieselmann's play, crisply translated here by David Tushingham, and you'll find a wealth of uncomfortable political meaning. Skim along the surface, and you'll simply roar at the sheer absurdity of it all.

This is one of those shows that, given a less expert handling, could have devolved into crassness. Fortunately, director Scott Cummins and his terrific cast, including Brad C. Light as a pizza delivery guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, strike the requisite balance between the horrifying and the hilarious. This is no spoof, although it could have been. Cummins keeps his actors on a tight rein, pitching his staging at just the other side of naturalism, and his cast complies with taut, delicately timed performances that never descend to caricature. Particularly effective is Dede, whose character transforms from a buttoned-down cipher to a shrieking sybarite out for blood.

A warning: There's gore aplenty in "Mr. Kolpert," and nudity as well. This play is not for the faint of heart -- though it will appeal to those who appreciate gallows humor of a surprisingly intellectual stripe. Indeed, the hidden, harrowing message of Gieselmann's remarkable play will resonate long after you have left the theater.


'Mr. Kolpert'

Where: Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions.

Ends: March 19

Price: $20.50 to $25

Contact: (310) 477-2055, www.odysseytheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World