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Entertainment & Arts

Review:  Eccentric French ‘Dragons’ exhibits commendable humility

Review: Eccentric French ‘Dragons’ exhibits commendable humility
“Melancolie des Dragons” at REDCAT is a low-key affair about an unspectacular amusement park.
(Martin Arguiroglo)
Los Angeles Times Theater Critic

The most tantalizing aspect of “La Mélancolie des Dragons,” an eccentric performance work by French artist and director Philippe Quesne, is the gentle camaraderie of the longhaired heavy-metal dudes, whose car has broken down in the middle of a field during their road tour.

This motley group of beer-chugging, potato-chip-munching, AC/DC-worshiping head bangers isn’t a retro band popular with nostalgic Gen Xers. These oddly coiffed gentlemen are the purveyors of a most unusual pop-up amusement park.

The stage of REDCAT, where this languorous work (performed in lightly accented English) ends its brief run on Friday, has been converted into a winter wonderland with fake snow carpeting the ground and white flakes caked on the branches of dead trees.

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Four men are sitting in a stalled car listening to vintage ‘80s tunes. They eat, drink and fuss with their hair as they groove to guitar riffs and guttural vocals. Conversation seems beside the point: Their placid togetherness speaks volumes.

Isabelle (Isabelle Angotti), a woman in a puffy purple jacket, arrives after this long introduction in which hanging out is the only activity. She looks like she might be the mother of one of the guys but has come to repair their car. After looking under the hood and making a phone call, she has some bad news: It will take a week to get the part needed to fix the car.

No problem. They show her what’s inside the trailer they’re towing.

A collection of wigs hanging from strings creates the effect of a group of strangely hirsute invisible men. One fellow offers to set up the library of books that have influenced their artistry. (A copy of Antonin Artaud’s “The Theater and Its Double,” in English, is among them.)

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Isabelle appreciates this show-and-tell, and the men politely ask her whether she’d like to see more. Yes, please.

The amusement park, in all its unspectacular oddity, is brought out. They reveal (in great explanatory detail) the video projector, the bubble machine and the makeshift fountain emitting a weak spray of water.

These amiable fellows (who range widely in age) are so grateful for her kind “feedback” that they drag out the pièce de résistance: a set of floats that are inflated into massive rectangular shapes. (I wondered whether these might be the melancholy dragons referred to in the title, but the sensational is strictly banished here.)

Quesne, who created Vivarium Studio in Paris as a laboratory for theatrical experiment, is known for his anti-consumerist aesthetic. This amusement park, rather than offering distracting spectacle or terrifying adventure, is focused on the simple, human give-and-take between artists and their audience.

In Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” a character complains after his performance is mocked: “This is not generous, not gentle, not humble.” The courtesy depicted in “La Mélancolie des Dragons” makes it awkward to complain of dullness, so let me commend the sweet humility of this curious show.

Twitter: @CharlesMcNulty

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‘La Me¿lancolie des Dragons’

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Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday. Ends Friday.

Tickets: $30

Info: (213) 237-2800, www.redcat.org

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes


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