This Week in Theater
Written by Steven Leigh Morris
Review by Rose Desena
Critic meets the Performance artist
Steven Leigh Morris, playwright known to many of us as a critic for the LA Weekly, teams up with Frederique Michel, queen of performance art, and together they make beautiful music. They present us with a creative story of politics, religion and corruption in Russia.
By the way of background information, Morris spent a lot of time in Russia as a playwright-in-residence for the Moscow Theater, which shows in his command of language and imagery. The Russian attitude toward democracy fascinated him and served as the catalyst for his current play, Moskva.
The cacophonous carnival atmosphere of the first act is brilliantly staged by Michel, showcasing music and design to thinly veil the justifiable cynicism and darkness underlying the Russian psyche. In Russia, a country with severe poverty and rampant alcoholism, democracy, as we know it, might be more of a fantasy than a true reality which brings to light some interesting questions: Did they really want democracy and would it work? Doesn’t democracy come with its own price?
Michel does an excellent job giving the audience a brash and entertaining performance complete with her artistic signature of fun costumed characters. Moskva then moves to a parade of horrible and historical villains as protagonists who are thrust at the audience in the nude. These villains are not only Russian; Morris references America’s current politicians as well.
After what I have experienced lately in American politics maybe, Russia does not have an exclusive on evil politicking or personal agenda leadership. I absolutely loved the first act; it kept me high and made the complex script a visual adventure.
For me the play could have easily ended there. The second act was more intense and tosses aside the carnival with a literal descent into hell to reenact the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilot, including the Devil as the antagonist.
Morris’ use of the Devil is interesting and makes for an intriguing question about the influence of politics and its relationship to good and evil. I have to admit I got a little lost and after the high energy and vibrancy of the first act. I struggled to hang onto the words.
The actors and musicians boldly step up to the challenge. As always, Michel’s creative talent shines through and her team of stage crew and actors never seem to tire. She fills her small stage with exceptional movement creating mesmerizing magic. Costume and sound design are impeccable and the spare, multilevel stage is used to good effect. One really does get to experience what it’s like to see through the eyes of a different culture.
Take a walk on the wild side, your will enjoy the adventure.
Written by Steven Leigh Morris
Directed by Frederique Michel
Cast: Cast: Nathan Dana Aldrich, Steven Amendola, Ben Bandel, Jonathan Bargiel, Barret Crane, Justin Davanzo, Kristina Drager, Erol Dolen, David E. Frank, Jeffrey Gardner, Kat Johnston, Megan Kim, Jordan Kurtzman
Runs: Friday and Saturday @ 8pm. Pay what you can Sunday @ 4pm
City Garage, City Garage@ Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1
Santa Monica, CA 90404