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Theater review: 'See What I Wanna See' by Blank Theatre Company

April 29, 2010 |  7:15 pm
400.PICT2031 The word "truth" permeates "See What I Wanna See," with intricate, mercurial implications. Michael John LaChiusa's 2005 chamber musical about the subjective nature of truth enjoys an arresting West Coast premiere by the Blank Theatre Company.
 
Drawn from three short stories by Ryu¯nosuke Akutagawa, "See" unfolds with formal precision. "Kesa & Morito" concerns adulterers in medieval Japan who plot the other's demise –"Tonight I kiss my lover for the last time" – through analogous interior monologues as incisive prologue to each act.
 
Act 1's showpiece is "R Shomon," based on "In a Grove," the source of Kurosawa's classic film "Rashomon." We are in New York City, 1951, where a thief, a wife and a husband give contradictory accounts of a crime of passion, muddied by a janitor witness.  This now-familiar scenario ignites in composer-lyricist LaChiusa's fusion of jazz and classicism, which blurs opera and musical theater to electrifying effect.
 
More schematic is Act 2's "Gloryday," which inverts Akutagawa's "The Dragon" into a quirky parable about faith. In 2002 Manhattan, a disillusioned priest concocts a hoax miracle, with ironic results. If the subject merits a larger, independent canvas, LaChiusa's post-Sondheim writing is brilliant.
 
So is Daniel Henning's tensely focused minimalist staging, its stark design scheme dominated by Jeremy Pivnick's superb lighting. Musical director David O expertly oversees a fine band and a first-rate cast, vocally and histrionically resplendent.
 
Lesli Margherita is mesmeric, whether exuding Japanese restraint, bombshell sizzle or post-9/11 ennui. Velvet-toned Doug Carpenter similarly reveals new depths to his talent, particularly as the raffish thief. Perry Ojeda is riveting at his spectral "R Shomon" testimony, in tandem with medium Suzan Solomon, who merges brass and pathos as "Gloryday's" atheist aunt. Jason Graae downplays his impish charm as the janitor, only to give his best, most deeply felt performance yet as the priest.

Everyone honors LaChiusa's singular idiom, giving "See What I Wanna See" its intriguing, albeit specialized punch. Nobody who values the American musical as mature art form should miss it.

– David C. Nichols

"See What I Wanna See," 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 23. $30 and $34.99. (323) 661-9827 or www.TheBlank.com. Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Lesli Margherita and Perry Ojeda. Courtesy of the Blank Theatre Company.
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