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Canon Fodder: “The Penelopiad” at City Garage

Maids of “The Penelopiad”
Photo by Paul Rubenstein, courtesy of City Garage Theatre

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?
— Brecht A Worker Reads History

Whose and who, indeed?  In 2005, Margaret Atwood shook the dust off of The Odyssey and turned it to her own purpose looking at those left behind as Odysseus went off to war and wandering.  The stage adaptation of The Penelopiad receives a bracing, audacious performance as Santa Monica’s City Garage returns to full swagger.

Atwood casts a gimlet eye on the great men of Sparta and Ithaca where most lives didn’t matter and all the standards were double.  Her sympathies are squarely with Penelope and even moreso her maids who receive an untimely end upon Odysseus’s eventual return.  The novella is set in a timeless Hades as Penelope narrates her very lonely life.  In the play, she watches it unfold.  Despite ostensibly high station, she is pitiable – an afterthought to all  and always second fiddle  to her cousin Helen.  But that isn’t the generational servitude into which so many were born or taken as spoils of war.  “We too were children” say the maids, “We too were born to the wrong parents. Poor parents, slave parents, peasant parents, and serf parents; parents who sold us, parents from whom we were stolen.”   It snaps how little has changed through the centuries.

The all female cast of thirteen portrays twenty five roles and the adaptation is a corker.   Peggy Flood is a wistful, melancholy spirit-Penelope watching Lindsay Plake relive her life.  Odysseus (Emily Asher Kellis,) woos, weds, and beds her before sodding off to recover her hated cousin – “the septic bitch,” in one of many fine turns of phrase.  Flood is one of two singly-cast, the rest weave in and out of a fluid, polymorphous chorus budding here as a suitor, there as a son, and collectively as a boat or an army through chant and shanty.  The script is eminently suited to Frédérique Michel’s idiosyncratic style and discreetly supported by Charles Duncombe’s production design.

Peggy Flood and the cast of “The Penelopiad”
Photo by Paul Rubenstein, courtesy of City Garage Theatre

With even Telemachus (Courtney Brechemin) taken from her to be raised by a nurse (Geraldine Fuentes,) Penelope bucks tradition and her in-laws to make work and a life for herself.  “Remember this – water does not resist. Water flows” said her Naiad mother (Angela Beyer) and daughter dutifully goes around obstacles she can’t go through.  She takes up weaving and stewards her husband’s estate in hopes of his pleasure upon his return.  Yes, she deals in slaves and selects twelve young ones for her inner circle.  They do her bidding in the house, at the loom, and much, much more when the suitors arriveThe maids are her eyes, ears, and arms in keeping the youthful louts somewhat at bay through directed canoodling.   When the shroud artifice goes awry, the suitors turn from mere pillaging to the rape of Penelope’s favorite, Melantho (Marissa Ruiz).  In a play full of CG’s hallmark nudity, this fully clothed scene shocks.   Atwood progressively ratchets the cynicism.    Penelope and Helen (Marie Paquim)  – both knowing how things turned out – lob barbs at each other, the latter as unrepentant and caustic in death as in life.  Clever Odysseus is a conniving businessman and silver-tongued devil.  The chorus snarks at his supposed heroics and marvels at his ability to avoid getting home for ten years.   And, no break for the lady of the house even upon his disguised return.  While she sleeps, father and son slaughter the suitors.  Egged on by the nurse, they snuff the loyal maids in thanks for helping the house stave off total ruin.   Isolated from birth, estranged from son and husband, Penelope can’t explain, complain, or mourn her only real family and has to accept the collateral dommage.

Although a couple of the choral interludes are a tad silly, the author’s concept and political vision come off like fine espresso – fragrant, dark, and bitter with an eye-opening kick.    The adaptation omits two chapters: “Anthropology Lecture” proposing an interesting literary theory and lobbing preemptive strikes against critics would have been draggy and hard to stage.  “The Trial of Odysseus” would have presented its own problems but starkly showed the man getting away with it to the horror of his victims.  Then as now, justice punches down.  Despite the sprawling saga, the production is a tight, symmetric two hours with intermission.  “Penelopiad” was in rehearsals in March 2020 just before the world went on hold.   In that time of shutdown the carpet pulled back and we saw at least briefly the countless, nameless “essential workers” risking all to make the world fit for the profiteers.  Atwood performs a similar service by turning a well-worn story on its head for a different perspective.  Wily Kinbote was right,  it can be the underside of the weave that entrances the beholder and it is the commentator who has the last word.

Bergamot Station was alive and hopping on opening night with multiple galleries having their own events.  CG’s neighbor BBAX hosted the opening of textile artist Carmen Mardonez‘s solo show.  Brilliantly colored and explorable sails of cloth and yarn along with eerily humanoid sculptural shapes offered both preface and counterpoint to the equally nautical although somber play next door.  The artist echoes Penelope in her statement, “As a woman, my entrails have always been governed by others.”  It is one of those confluence of forms that in an ideal world would be much more frequent in an art colony.  Unfortunately the galleries close up shop long before curtain leaving a mostly dark and unfestive parking lot for theatregoers.  The exhibition runs through January 2023 and is worth a stop.

Youtube Channel: L.A. Art Documents

The Penelopiad
by Margaret Atwood
Directed by Frédérique Michel
for The City Garage

11 November to 18 December 2022
Friday and Saturday 8pm,  Sunday 6pm
at Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave, Building T1
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Admission: $30, Students/Seniors $25
Sundays “Pay What You Can” at the Door

Box Office: (310) 453-9939
or online

Running time: Two hours minutes with intermission
Masks requested but not required

Unspeakable Dreams, Smothering Desires
A solo exhibition by Carmen Mardonez
Curated by Marisa Caichiolo

12 November 2022 through January 2023
Tuesday – Friday, 11:30am – 5pm & Saturday, 12 – 6pm
at Building Bridges Art Exchange
Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave, Building F2
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Free admission

So, Exit already

45 isn’t a king but acts like one on television.  L’état c’est lui, a petulant whiny child beheading his enemies with multiple wives and obsequious servants flattering before fading into the desperate end.

It is time, long past time, for this rancid wannabe to make a real exit.

Youtube Channel: City Garage


Comedy of Terrors: “Exit the King” at City Garage

Natasha St. Clair Johnson and Troy Dunn in “Exit the King” at City Garage
Photo courtesy of Paul Rubenstein

If the death of one man is a tragedy and a million a statistic, where does Everyman‘s death fall?  So asks Ionesco as his infinitely mutable Bérenger rages against mortality in “Exit the King,” just opened at City Garage.  This was one of the plays that introduced me to small theatre,  that distinct art form with which I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship ever since.   I didn’t know what to make of Ionesco when I first encountered him.  It was late 1993 and the Independent Theatre Company (ITC)  had staged “Exit” at their tiny House of Candles Theatre on Stanton Street in the lower East Side of New York City.    I had heard of the absurdists,  knew they were “important,” and that this play along with “Rhinoceros” were considered essential by those who knew about such things.     I don’t remember anything specific about the production apart from walking out with more questions than answers and yet willing to try the playwright again.

Chief Garagistes Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe have crafted their own translaptation  of the now well-known story – a petulant, arrogant, self-absorbed bigamist struldbrugg of a King Bérenger the First (Troy Dunn) is fading after four hundred years and doesn’t want to go, gently or otherwise, into that good night.   He pouts, sulks, screams, and tantrums  through the five stages of grief as his two wives and small retinue, emblems of his body and the body politic, try to ease what’s left of his mind.  Only the second wife, the keening Queen Marie (Lindsay Plake) shares his belief in the unfairness and tragedy of it all.   The rest try to prepare him for the inevitable, each according to his or her means.

Michel preserves the one act structure and plays up the comedic elements for most of it while not overplaying the house style.  Other than the Doctor’s (Anthony Sannazzaro) Pythonesque silly walk, the movement work is kept in check in favor of  the  text.  There is not much extraneous business and Duncombe’s set supports the action unobtrusively.  (The Actors Gang staged “Exit” 20 years ago, turning a tragicomic romp into a two act slog.  That, my second encounter  with the work, did not survive the merciful intermission.)   We begin to suspect that the King really isn’t and that we’re seeing the end of Everyman Bérenger, majestic in mind only, with other characters representing parts of his failing kingdom-cum-body.   The Doctor and Guard  (David E. Frank) quietly back off the stage leaving him defenseless. Much put-upon Maid Juliette (Kat Johnston in a fine, understated turn) leaves and the myriad autonomous functions of the body, life, and living leave with her.

To the question is this a one character or a six character play, the answer of course, is two.  It’s a bit of a setup but the comedy is a sweet headfake to the denouement between Bérenger and his first wife, the imperious, practical, and sensible Queen Marguerite.  The final scene between the resonant Dunn and cool, elegant, swan-necked Natasha St. Clair Johnson is the slow, terrifying, inevitable waltz that’s on all of our dance cards.  When that end comes, we know, life goes on without us.  Johnson has been appearing frequently in recent productions but is exceptionally well-matched to this role and this moment, the only truly regal presence.    The stage, unencumbered by videos or effects,  smoothly darkens as he ascends his throne for the last time with a single spot closing over his alternately tortured, frightened, desperate, pleading face.   This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.  It is one of those theatrical moments that can leave audiences holding their collective breath before a well-deserved exhale and wild applause.  Or it could have had it not been for the goober taking cellphone photos at intervals throughout the evening doing so at this juncture.  The flash came on in the dying light and to top it off, he began clapping before the fadeout to which the production had been building for the preceding 99 minutes.

Despite Bérenger’s resemblance to 45 (or vice-versa), “Exit” is not the overt political call-to-arms that is “Rhinoceros”  and certainly not the out-and-out political comedy that is “La Leçon/The Lesson” which Liz Pocock knocked into orbit in 2004 at the company’s old Promenade location.  Even if it were that call, the world is voting the other way these days and by and large, the world doesn’t go to see plays.   “Exit”‘s scope is smaller in respects, grander in others but this strong production is certainly worth a visit to Bergamot Station between now and 14 July.

Exit the King
by Eugène Ionesco, translated and adapted by Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe
Directed by Frédérique Michel

Running through 14 July 2019 at City Garage
Building T1, Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm;
Sundays, 4pm

Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
Box Office: 310-453-9939
Online ticketing through Brown Paper Tickets

And here’s King Louis the First with Steely Queen Keely with their take on the final curtain.

Youtube Channel: Attila F.

(Link to video updated 5/25/2022)

Expectation Values: ‘St. Joan’ at The Broad Stage

Taken by itself,  Bedlam’s production of Shaw’s ‘St. Joan’ was well-performed and well-received.  Four performers gave it their all and the audience acknowledged them enthusiastically at the end of the three hour evening.  Unfortunately it suffers when compared to director Eric Tucker’s 2005 effort in the SFV.   Fallible memory is part of the problem.  It is too easy to add details to an enjoyable evening – details that creep into memory even though they may not have occurred.  At more pressing issue is the misfit between the production’s ambitions and the venue.  The Broad Stage seats 499 in relative comfort, a far cry from the tiny warehouse off of Vineland with bleacher seating moved in-show by the cast.  The conventional proscenium stage dilutes the impact of the performances with every passing row.  Those of us who selected the “on stage” option were seated in the back of the hall for the first and third acts and brought on stage only for the second.   The website stated that the audience would be onstage for one or two acts, not being clear which production (‘Hamlet’ runs in rep) would have which.

The 2005 production had Tucker, David Neher, and Eloise Ayala performing the twenty-plus non-Joan roles to better effect than the three performers who divided the tasks here, playing from the aisles and seats as the show progressed – common festival approach that feels oddly out-of-place indoors.  It is hard to see subtle character shifts from a long distance and the uneven accent work didn’t help matters.    The second act allowed those onstage to see and hear up close the back-room dealings and intrigue that make so much of this play.  There is something about the maid, though. Aundria Brown is a compelling Joan, elevating the production whenever she’s on.  We get Shaw didactic, Shaw political, Shaw polemical, Shaw militant, and Shaw comical in spades.  The payoff is when imprisoned, tortured, and bullied Joan recants her confession in a marvelous third act speech preferring death to  dungeon life away from her land, her animals, and her soldiers.  For this seldom seen Shaw pastoral (‘Village Wooing’ being a notable exception), we are again in the back of beyond with the impact correspondingly blunted.  It would have made more sense to have the audience on stage for this than the courtly intrigue although it would have required a major rethinking of the staging and stagecraft. This production does include the final dream sequence where the characters reassemble and wrap things up in a sweet epilogue.

It would have been nice to see the Bighead/Bedlam minimalist aesthetic continue in Los Angeles but no one can blame Tucker for heading back east.  Grapes may grow best in stony soil but arts organizations need more arable land.  This  ‘St. Joan’ ultimately has to compete against its younger, poorer, fearless, and reckless self.   It’s fighting a fond memory and there are few tougher opponents.

Hamlet and St. Joan
Bedlam Theatre Co.
in repertory at The Broad Stage
5 April to 15 April 2018
1310 11th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tickets: Box Office: 310 434 3200 and online at The Broad’s website

Bedlam in Santa Monica: Hamlet and St. Joan at The Broad Stage

7 April 2018 Update: Post-performance notes available here

Photo courtesy C. King Photography

It’s just bedlam, I tell ya… I don’t normally pay attention to Santa Monica’s The Broad Stage but their recent postcard was a grabber.  Eric Tucker and his Bedlam Theatre are bringing their minimalist Shakes and Shav to town as part of a national tour.  Before Bedlam, there was Bighead Theatricalities where Tucker’s kinetic stage sculptures played to very enthusiastic yet typically tiny LA audiences in a San Fernando Valley industrial park.  We few, the happy few, would not forget what we saw.

Fast forward a few years, Tucker is the toast of New York and returns to Southern California, albeit briefly, with a new cast but to all accounts the same approach.  No one can know whether the magic will strike again, whether a production for 4 patrons will scale to 499, or if it will blend as the young people say.   It could be fun to find out.  Details, including the Program Guide, are available at The Broad’s website where  Tucker’s bio says nothing about his LA stay and success – also sadly typical.

Hamlet and St. Joan
Bedlam Theatre Co.
in repertory at The Broad Stage
5 April to 15 April 2018
1310 11th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tickets: Box Office: 310 434 3200 and online at The Broad’s website

Nice Work if You Can Get It: ‘Lear’ at City Garage

Playwright Young Jean Lee has a Guggenheim, two Obies, a couple of Duke Foundation awards, a basketful of government and private grants, multiple commissions, a screenplay, a Berkeley degree, and her own theatre company whose mission is to produce the work of Young Jean Lee.

God help us.

http://www.citygarage.org for details of her take on King Lear

Grinding gears – “Hamletmachine: The Arab Spring” at City Garage


Image courtesy City Garage

“If you feel dissatisfaction
Strum your frustrations away
Some people may prefer action
But, gimme a folk song any old day”
— Tom Lehrer “Folksong Army”

Heiner Müller adapted Hamlet to his purposes in 1977 when the Germanies were split and Moscow ruled with no end in sight. ‘Hamletmachine’ has since become a darling of the late-night set and the adaptation further reschnootered according to the needs and means of its producers.  Magda Romanska flipped the point of view in ‘Opheliamachine’ presented by City Garage in 2013 and now the Garagistes take a second try at the original.  It is a tough slog even for the interested, receptive participant.

It is unclear whether the playwright gave explicit permission for his six page text to be freely interpreted and amended but that’s what happens to it.   The tyrannical regime is now in a generic middle east, the people revolt, and the fallout is unpredictable.  What this has to do with two Hamlets, Gertrude in a wedding dress, Marx in a wheelchair, and  Ophelia in a bomb vest is anyone’s guess.  Video projections cover rioters, dead children, and modern mullahs preaching holy war.  Bits and pieces of Shakespeare peek out in a turbulent, loud, and ultimately opaque river of words.   A bizarre fashion show emceed by a latter-day Marie Antoinette stands out as a caution against the consequences of unchecked inequality. Read it as a fundamental difference between West and East, proof of their equivalence, or anything else that catches fancy. For those who believe no explanation is necessary, for those who don’t none is possible.

It is no fault of City Garage that the Paris attacks  coincided with the day of the opening.  The preshow chatter was the normal silliness, easily silenced with headphones.  Duncombe’s short curtain speech suggested that the events raised important questions in context of the play and invited dialogue after the performance.  Normally it is best to leave opening night parties to  friends and family to chatter with the cast.  The gravity of the day’s events led to unmet hopes for a little more substance.  The company proudly quotes Brecht’s maxim that Art is a hammer with which to shape reality. While it may be true, the  Shakespeare machines are weak evidence.  The contrast between action and contemplation is much more stark in Shaw who wrote “Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done.”  While this can be easily rationalized as strategy versus tactics, it is a better representation of history and a grisly predictor of our future.

‘Hamletmachine’ is the first salvo in City Garage’s Post-Modern Shakespeare Series. It runs until 20 December 2015 followed by Young Jean Lee’s ‘Lear’ and Duncombe’s ‘Othello/Desdemona’ in February and April of 2016.

Hamletmachine: The Arab Spring
by Heiner Müller, adapted by Charles Duncombe
Directed by Frédérique Michel

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays, 3pm through 20 December 2015
Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
No performances Friday 11/20 and Friday 11/27.

City Garage
Bergamot Station Arts Center
Building T1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Purchase online at Brown Paper Tickets
Box Office: 310-453-9939

Orgon Therapy – Tartuffe by Molière: A Reality Show at City Garage

Chelsea Militano and George Villas in ‘Tartuffe…’:  Image courtesy Paul Rubenstein and City Garage

“Tartuffe” has become a secular passion play for LA audiences.  It’s staged frequently, in a variety of styles, and it’s message always underlined as particularly timely and pertinent to the day.  Frédérique Michel and Charles Duncombe’s translaptation is a light, fun romp and a surprisingly  faithful representation of the story.  This is not CG’s “Patriot Act: The Reality Show” from 2004.  That systematic destruction of a naive, patriotic schlub by the surveillance state and its media enablers was eerily on point and prescient.  This is Molière as maskless commedia of Beverly Hills riche on a spiffy modernist set.  Then as now, Bo Roberts plays the dupe.  M. Orgon’s  home, daughter, and trophy wife are slowly suborned by a homeless holy man.  We watch the con much like a television audience might with the occasional video projection providing backstory.   The similarity to modern reality shows is an exercise for the viewer.  I don’t watch tv, I don’t even own one.

The bulk of Michel’s cast goes full throttle, each inhabiting his or her own world-within-a-world.  Saucy maid Dorine (a gender-bent J. Carlos Flores) takes on her bosses in Spanglish, daughter Mariane and her beau (Megan Kim, John Hayden) carry on in Valspeak, noble young Damis (Johnny Langan) is hell-bent on saving his family while harboring feelings for his stepmother.  Roberts’s Orgon fumes and blusters, Trace Taylor shines as Mme. Pernelle, and David Frank’s restrained Cléante is the only sane one of the bunch.  At times  supporting players come off as talking past one another.   The two characters typically allowed depth are Orgon’s wife (Chelsea Militano) and the titular Tartuffe (George Villas) and so it is here.  Willowy, elegant Militano, who would be at home on a volleyball court, plays Elmire as absolutely comfortable with who and what she is.  She likes the sweet life, regards it as her due, and has no qualms marrying into it.  Waugh had it right.  Manners are especially the need of the plain.  The pretty can get away with anything. Villas executes the piety and sleaze nicely and the famous seduction scene with Orgon in the arras flies.

Politics is deferred to the last ten minutes. It’s no secret that this play ends with all being restored for the noblesse thanks to the all-seeing eye that looks favorably on the rich and punishes the aspirant.   It is all right to marry for money but running the ruling class’s con game against itself will not be tolerated.  There might even be the merest flash of sympathy for Tartuffe-as-Uriah-Heep, feigning humility as the only way to take his revenge on a hopelessly stratified society.  So, we have a fine production of a classic play but the lingering question is why and why now? The countless stagings of Tartuffe and other satires have made as much a dent in hypocrisy and gullibility as have e-petitions for social justice.  The establishment knows that no lasting movements will result from either and simply keeps on keeping on.   CG loves Molière and has been alternating highly abstract works with accessible ones.  It is likely that this is a little fun and frolic to limber up for an ambitious season of  reinvestigations of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies.  Müller’s Hamletmachine is next followed by Young Jean Lee’s Lear  and Duncombe’s take on Othello.

“Tartuffe by Molière: A Reality Show”
September 11 – November 1, 2015

Directed by Frédérique Michel
Produced by Charles A. Duncombe

City Garage: Bergamot Station Arts Center
Building T1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays 5:00pm;
Box Office: 310-453-9939
Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
Online tickets at Brown Paper Tickets

Timepiece: City Garage gets its stopwatch

Jeffrey Gardner and Renee Ulloa-McDonald in Timepiece at City Garage
Photo: Paul Rubenstein, courtesy City Garage

Charles Duncombe tries his hand at memento mori in the recently-opened Timepiece at City Garage. An attractive young woman looking forward to her future and all the usual accessories gets handed a left-turn at Albuquerque in the form of a clock that she can’t let go. This is a biological clock no doubt and since it’s handed to her by a top-hatted gent in whiteface (Jeffrey Gardner) we know that the endpoint is not little ones but The Final Curtain.

What follows is a brisk dialogue covering several of the stages of loss tweaking scientific reductionism, religion, and conventional morality as required. Whether afflicted nice girl Betty (Renee Ulloa-McDonald) is talking to five different characters or five different aspects of herself is an exercise for the viewer. Either reading applies but it wouldn’t be City Garage unless it were a hybrid. It’s a strong piece for the quartet of actresses – McDonald, Nili Rain Segal, Megan Kim, and Katrina Nelson under Frederique Michel’s direction. Nelson especially stands out as a once-optimistic woman turned jittery and bitter after a slide down the razor-blade of life. Other aspects of the script and production don’t fare as well confusing volume for substance. Humorous props, slapstick, and sight-gags maintain a mostly light touch over the heavy subject matter. One wonders further if there’s any autobiographical impulse behind this story.

Timepiece is a good introduction to the Garage’s m.o. for the curious. It walks the middle ground between Opheliamachine and When the Rain Stops Falling while preserving the design elements, movement, and sociopolitical focus for which Michel and Duncombe are known. And unlike the past couple of shows, this one landed bang-on the expected 90 minute running time on opening night.

January 23 – March 1, 2015
Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm; Sundays 5:00pm
Admission: $25; Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20; Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can” (at the door only)
City Garage at Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave. Building T1
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets

Roly-poly Fishheads at City Garage

Image Courtesy City Garage

City Garage has taken an unusual step with ‘When the Rain Stops Falling,’ Andrew Bovell‘s time-hopping tragedy-cum-mystery playing at Bergamot Station until 23 November 2014.

London – late 1950s. Henry and Beth Law are expecting their first child. It is unreasonably rainy even for that city and there are hints that Henry has a problem. He eventually abandons his family, leaving his son Gabriel to wonder about his father in due course of time. In Australia, the Yorks of the Coorong lose a young son to the ocean and the parents never recover from the loss. Bovell progressively links these two seemingly unrelated families over three generations and eighty years. It’s an often engrossing mystery kicked off by the adult Gabriel pulling enough from his tight-lipped and frail mother to realize that any answers he may find will come from another continent.

It’s not a simple progression. The play starts in 2039 with an unpromising monologue but slowly improves – each scene shifting back or forward several decades as young Laws and Yorks anticipate and their older versions recapitulate. Bovell adds clues and throws fakes skillfully, ratcheting the tension and unease requiring the audience to assemble a timeline and genealogy from vignettes. He doesn’t tip his hand until he wants everything to coalesce. The audience will be pleased with itself for ‘getting it’ and ‘it’ is genuinely horrifying.

This work is a odd choice for the boundary-pushing City Garage. The language is structured, intentionally repetitive, and occasionally poetic but not heightened at the level of ‘Caged,’ ‘Bald Soprano,’ or ‘Opheliamachine.’ There is a nice puzzle to be solved but there isn’t much abstraction or ambiguity. There isn’t a political message apart from a nod to overfished oceans, the collapse of American hegemony, and climate upheaval. This is the kind of well-made wonder-bread sandwich normally associated with PRT or the CTG.

Perhaps Bovell’s ambitions struck a chord. There is symbolism aplenty – fish, fish-heads, and fish soup figure prominently across all timeframes. There is a heavy rain that destroys without cleansing. Exiled characters at war with their families wander in foreign lands with sands as red as blood. They try in vain to purify themselves, madness is everywhere. The women are prescient to the point of prophesy and yet no one can escape fate. Bovell’s aiming well past the kitchen sink and at the Greeks. Audiences will assuredly be split on whether he succeeds. The cast is up to the script with Courtney Clonch and Ann Bronston standing out as the young and old Beth Law and Scarlett Bermingham as Gabrielle York. A high point of the evening is Clonch’s methodical, brutal cross-examination of husband Henry (George Villas) leading to the departure that ultimately sends Gabriel on his own disastrous quest.

There’s also a nagging question of why ‘Rain’ is a play, at all. It is a fine literary work and would be terrific on the radio. City Garage is also known for movement and stagecraft, most of which seems superfluous here. Anthony Sanazzaro’s video projections of rain, ocean, and sky are nice (does the Southern sky really look like that?) but Charles Duncombe’s sound design is sufficient to frame the events. Director Frederique Michel has her actors move themselves, furniture, and eat pretend fish soup wordlessly for stretches to no clear purpose. Ostensibly a 90-minute one-act, opening night stretched to two-and-a-quarter hours with a chunk of the overrun due to the moving blackouts. The recent Bulgakov/Moliere had similar timing problems. City Garage has certainly earned the right to do a straight-up play with a beginning, middle, and end (although not necessarily in that order). It is unclear what, if anything can be legally trimmed from the script but perhaps the Garage could use a new stopwatch.

City Garage
Bergamot Station Arts Center
Building T1
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90404

Purchase tickets online at Brown Paper Tickets or call the Box Office at 310-453-9939 to reserve seats.

Fridays, Saturdays 8:00pm
Sundays 5:00pm
Admission: $25
Students w/ID & Seniors (65+): $20
Sundays “Pay-What-You-Can”
(at the door only)