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Review: 'The Devil With Boobs' at Open Fist Theatre Company

April 2, 2009 |  2:30 pm


In the anarchic realm of master provocateur Dario Fo, satire and slapstick are never mutually exclusive, as witnessed by "The Devil With Boobs." In its stunning West Coast premiere at Open Fist Theatre Company, this 1997 allegory weds commedia-inflected hysteria to savage observation, with exceptional results.

Written by Fo for his wife, Franca Rame, the title, as translated by Jon Laskin, indicates the narrative thrust, barely. Set during the Renaissance, "Devil" concerns how a master devil tasks his dim apprentice to possess an honest jurist and turn him to debauchery.  Except that the judge's loyal housekeeper ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, sending the plan madly askew. Further details would blunt Fo's knee-slapping mix of scatology and hilarity and possibly make my head fall off.

Under Tom Quaintance's superb direction, "Devil" traverses designer Adam Rowe's marvelous set like a demented tarantella between Brecht and John Waters at Pasolini's summer villa. Christina Wright's costumes and puppets are as witty as Charles Otte's lights and violin licks are tensile. Musical director Alex Wright's compositions and sound design keep the comedy from precocity, the comment from obviation.

The ensemble, seamlessly cavorting in Diana Wyenn's choreography, is magnificent. As hapless Pizzocca, the wonderful Katherine Griffith goes the distance, working her entire being in every direction. Michael Winters brings skewed gravitas to the judge; Phillip William Brock exudes sardonic frivolity as his nemesis. Weston Blakesley's scabrous cardinal, Herschel Sparber's devilish underling and Pilar Alvarez's key witness in the judge's expository case are but three standouts amid a superlative group effort.

Open Fist has done noteworthy work for years now. Yet its achievement here -- brazen, refined, romping and meaningful at once -- is something else again. It's not for children but adventurous theatergoers, and the judgmental reactionaries at whom Fo aims his sharpest jabs can hardly do better than this vivid company watershed.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Devil With Boobs," Open Fist Theatre Company, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 16. Adult audiences. $20. (323) 882-6912. Running time:  2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: the cast of "The Devil With Boobs." Credit: Maia Rossenfeld.