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Theater review: 'Show Your Face!' at REDCAT

January 20, 2011 | 12:17 pm

A snowsuit speaks volumes in “Show Your Face!,” REDCAT’s object-puppet show from Slovenia’s Betontanc and Latvia’s Umka.LV theater companies. This toddler’s sky blue winter onesie endures estrangement and torture at the hands (literally) of the modern state. Well, this is Eastern European theater, where the music is composed by a band called Silence. 

IMG_3442The snowsuit and his oppressors begin as detritus on a long table stretched across an empty stage. Below, three musician-singers provide a live soundtrack for our beleaguered hero’s misadventures, which resemble a cross between a Morrissey song and “The Prisoner.”

A squad of seven performers, dressed in utilitarian black and wearing headlamps, bring this faceless, diminutive Everyman to poignant life with their hands and voices as he pounds the city streets, enduring an endless manhunt by the state police. The spirited ensemble creates quick, vivid tableaux: wire cutters become a menacing sea creature; two stick puppets kissing transform into a bird; a pair of silver pumps wittily evokes a woman in a compromising position. The puppets and objects, fashioned by Barbara Stupica, take on a heightened aura under Tomaž Štrucl’s sharp lighting. 

Directed with playfulness by Matjaž  Pograjc, “Face!” has its moments of elemental power. But the material can feel thin, its Weltschmerz overworked. Allegory is theatrically challenging: Kafka's meticulous style works on the page but can seem one-note when performed. Narrative can flatten into mood, anguish can seem sentimental. Even Everyman’s intermittent connection to a beautiful sympathizer, for example, feels more Jason Bourne than Beckett. 

There are also random non-puppet outbursts — e.g., the troupe berates the audience for imagining that buying a Livestrong wristband is an act of generosity, or that giving up Pepsi is an act of corporate defiance. Other times they break into wild choreography, fighting liking Russ Meyer motorcycle babes or falling into each other like a trust exercise. You have to give them credit: “Face!” tries to have fun on its way to spiritual annihilation. 

With all the “Spider-Man” schadenfreude around these days, it’s hard to remember that for some, the act of imagining in public remains dangerous. The Belarus Free Theatre won raves in New York for “Being Harold Pinter,” a physical-theater-style survey of the British writer’s most political texts; back in its home country, however, the group must perform in secret, texting venue location at the last minute and risking arrest. Fearing reprisals from Belarus’ repressive government if the members return with Western accolades, the troupe is on its way to Chicago. (At least it’ll be used to the winter.) Betontanc and Umka.LV may or may not be facing similar obstacles, but they are at least willing to remind us of those who are.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Show Your Face!” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday. $25 and $30. (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org. Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Photo: Members of Betontanc and Umka.LV with their snowsuit puppet in "Show Your Face!" at REDCAT. Credit: Ricardo Miranda.


 
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