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Theater review: ‘Dual Citizens’ at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

March 11, 2010 |  8:30 pm

400.IMG_0033_1 The effect of "Dual Citizens" in its American premiere at the Odyssey derives as much from evocation as from expression. This double bill of solo works by real-life partners Anna Skubik and Anthony Nikolchev follows an idiomatic trajectory to examine codependent relationships and the lengths to which people will go to survive.

"Broken Nails: A Marlene Dietrich Dialogue" is Polish artist Skubik's duologue with the legendary star in her 80s, directed by Romuald Wicza-Pokojski. Utilizing a giant theatrical trunk, the lithe, arresting Skubik plays dresser and foil to a life-size Dietrich puppet (designed by Skubik and Barbara Poczwardowska). Eschewing outright ventriloquism or imitation, Skubik caters to and frets over the puppet, who exhibits an uncanny illusion of life. Not everything hits. Yet Skubik's impish take on the chasm between image and reality is fascinating, hitting edgy notes worthy of Grotowski.

In "Look, What I Don't Understand," Nikolchev, an American of Bulgarian descent, traces his family's circuitous trek from Communist Bulgaria to America, by way of Italy, from 1944 to 1969. It opens with Nikolchev in a giant wire cage, where he urgently registers the desperation of would-be defectors. Exiting out the back, he tips the huge unit on its side and launches a jagged fantasia of a memoir. Its sequences benefit from various directors under the unifying eye of Yuriy Kordonskiy, and Anna Cecilia Martin's lighting design is even more critical here than in "Broken Nails." Still, the motor is Nikolchev, who inhabits a swath of characters, accents and attitudes with a technique and honesty that constitutes a tour de force.

Both pieces defy easy categorization. The unadventurous need not apply. Avant-garde devotees and socially conscious viewers, however, should find much in "Dual Citizens" to reward their undivided attention.

"Dual Citizens," Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. (also, 8 p.m. March 17; March 14 & 28, 7 p.m. only) Ends March 28. $25-$35. (310) 477-2055 or www.odysseytheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Anna Skubik with 'Marlene Dietrich.’ Photo credit: Odyssey Theatre.

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