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Theater review: 'Figure 8' at Theatre of NOTE

February 28, 2012 |  1:00 pm

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Theatre of NOTE deserves high marks for producing Phinneas Kiyomura’s world premiere play, “Figure 8.”  Subtitled “The Seven Deadly Sins Plays,” Kiyomura’s work, a series of elliptical, loosely connected scenes, is as technically challenging as it is thematically obscure. Yet although the playwright’s stream-of consciousness technique sometimes falls short of real craft, the actual staging, by Kiyomura and co-director Jerry Kernion, is unerringly proficient.

The design elements, particularly Davis Campbell’s versatile set and Bryan Maier’s unusual video visual design, meld into a stylishly seamless whole, and the frequent scene shifts are so smoothly orchestrated, they never interrupt the flow of action.
 
The tone shifts from dark to funny to darkly funny to just plain harrowing. The first scene concerns E (Alex Elliott-Funk), a strung-out rock star whose acrimonious radio interview takes a violent turn.  E recurs in a subsequent scene, as indeed do many of these apparently extraneous characters.
 
But “La Ronde” this is not.  The connections are more random, and the specific relationships between the characters are often so belatedly delineated that the audience remains at a loss for much of the scene.  Among other subjects, the disparate plots include an evangelist flagellating a doubting congregant, incestuous siblings visiting their dying father in the hospital, a pornographer’s wrenching connection with a homeless Mormon he picked up on the beach, and a lonely school janitor lured into infidelity during his thankless work shift.
 

The acting is all of a high level, but a few performances stand out. Kirsten Vangsness’ scantily attired floozy is viciously amusing.  Alina Phelan is wrenchingly good as E’s hearing-impaired girlfriend. Eleanor van Hest is a hoot as an elementary schoolteacher whose inveterate perkiness is fueled by regular infusions of cocaine. And Elliott-Funk’s strung-out rocker is a keen portrait in drug-fueled pathology and the excesses of fame.
 
A kind of dramaturgical fun house, “Figure 8” sometimes tries too hard to catch us off guard with startling imagery.  But Kiyomura’s exercise in distortion has the power to genuinely haunt, especially in this sterling staging -- the optimum medium for this intriguing experiment.

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“Figure 8,” Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays.  Ends March 24. $25.  (323) 856-8611.  www.theatreofnote.com.  Running time:  1 hour, 40 minutes.

Photo: Alex Elliott-Funk. Credit: Kevin Sharp.

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