Category: The Actors' Gang

Theater review: ‘Atomic Holiday Free Fall’ at the Actors’ Gang

December 15, 2011 |  1:30 pm

Atomic Holiday
Is Cirque du Soleil’s de facto Occupy Vegas coup the product of an extraterrestrial invasion? That’s the whimsical alternate reality explanation offered in the sci-fi themed “Atomic Holiday Free Fall,” the latest incarnation of veteran Cirque performer/director Stefan Haves’ ever-mutating Your Town Follies revue. Launched this time out in collaboration with the Actors’ Gang, the variety show continues to entertain, though at times the eclectic mix of companies feels more like atomic fission than fusion.

Your Town Follies leverages Haves’ Cirque connections, enlisting extraordinary talents from the troupe’s various Las Vegas and touring shows — dancers, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, and other iconic cabaret acts — in vaudeville-inspired back-to-basics stagings that emphasize raw physical prowess over elaborate technical effects. As in Your Town Follies past, some acts will remain constant through the run — notably gravity-defying aerialist Eric Newton, gifted comedienne Kasey Wilson, a bevy of fetchingly choreographed Atomic showgirls, and lead singer Karen Blake heading up Philip Giffin’s versatile band.

Others will change nightly; the reviewed guest lineup included a graceful and poetic ballet by Sebastien Stella and Katia Sereno, tap dancer Sarah Reich hoofing her way along “Route 66,” and Haves reprising his brilliantly expressive “Back Man” character created from his inverted torso.

Less satisfying is the interactive staging and framing narrative about some time-traveling aliens from Planet Cirque, whose mission to become entertainers takes them to 1960s Vegas and Memphis; their interludes really suffer in comparison with the high-caliber Cirque acts.

-– Philip Brandes

“Atomic Holiday Free Fall,” The Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 8 nightly through Dec. 23, expect Sunday, plus Dec. 31. $35. (310) 838-4264 or Running time: 90 minutes.

Photo: Stefan Haves. Credit: Nathan Kornelis

Theater review: 'Red Noses' at the Ivy Substation

October 9, 2011 |  3:04 pm


The Black Death meets Belle Barth and Monty Python in "Red Noses," which opens the 30th anniversary season at the Actors' Gang with grave lunacy. Peter Barnes' dark comedy about a priest on a mission to pull laughter from destruction receives an austerely droll revival. 

First produced in 1985 by the Royal Shakespeare Company as the AIDS epidemic burgeoned, "Red Noses" exudes the irreverence characteristic of Barnes' "The Ruling Class." Set in 1348 France, the narrative follows Father Flote (Jeremie Loncka, beatifically poised), his response to the horror felling one-third of Europe underpinning Barnes' slender premise.

As scavengers and flagellants ferociously negotiate the body count, Father Flote has an epiphany. If ecclesiastic methods cannot heal the masses, joy can lift their spirits, provided by a new order of Christ's clowns.

The motley troupe that ensues appalls pious Father Toulon (Nathan Kornelis), despite sanction by Pope Clement VI (Mary Eileen O'Donnell, resonant as ever). "What would you call a priest consorting with a lusty, wanton nun?" says Flote. "Lucky," says the pope.

Director Dominique Serrand oversees the proceedings with equal parts anachronistic glee and hieratic restraint. Stripping the Ivy Substation of scenery, Serrand has effective assets in Rosalida Medina's quirky costumes, Jacqueline Reid's spare lighting and certainly the large, accomplished cast.

Loncka tosses off one-liners with a wry composure that counters his colleagues' shtick, their loopy panache emblematic of the company's signature ensemble discipline. Pierre Adeli's head scavenger and Jon Kellam's chief flagellant are agreeably bombastic, Adam Jefferis' and Jean-Louis Darville's assassins-turned-Flotists suavely raucous. Steven M. Porter's blind juggler, Cihan Sahin's unidexterous mime and Will Thomas McFadden's stammering standup typify the group dementia, and, as sex-starved Sister Marguerite, the redoubtable Cynthia Ettinger nearly steals the show.

Everybody's fine work almost camouflages the central flaw: There's as much sanctimony as sass to Barnes' script, which succumbs to repetitive overreach as plague's end brings a return to church oppression and martyrdom. This subtly infects the whole, its humor sometimes over-gentle, its savagery under-disturbing. Still, there's a nobility to "Red Noses' " levity in the face of chaos, and fans of the troupe should catch it.

— David C. Nichols

"Red Noses," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Ends Nov. 19. $25. (310) 838-4264 or Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Photo: Jeremie Loncka, left, Mary Eileen O'Donnell. Credit: Dominique Serrand



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