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Review: 'The Heretic Mysteries' at Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble

May 28, 2009 |  4:30 pm

Heretic Playwright-director David Bridel is nothing if not long-winded. Bridel’s “The Heretic Mysteries,” a Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble production in association with Powerhouse Theatre, runs a solid 3 1/2 hours.

Bear with the occasionally desultory dialogue, however, and you may well come to the conclusion that Bridel is the real thing, one of the most inventive, scholarly and vastly – and we mean vastly -- challenging voices on the current theatrical scene.  

Like last season’s “i Gelosi,” an engaging picaresque about a 16th century commedia troupe, “Mysteries” is also based in actual history.  As source material, Bridel used Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s 1979 book “Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error,” which detailed the heretical Cathar cult in the medieval French village of Montaillou. 

Set in the 1324, “Mysteries” takes us inside an Inquisitorial Council helmed by Bishop Jacques Fournier (Isaac Wade), a progressive who deplores the use of torture in such proceedings.  As Fournier questions the accused, the action goes back and forth in time, as we view events from various points of view.  But as Fournier tries to reconcile the differing accounts, his scrupulous rationalism is battered by superstition, ignorance, and the peasants’ righteous disgust with churchly corruption.

Bridel is fortunate in his unerringly proficient cast, which tackles Bridel’s demanding play with unfaltering commitment.  But although Bridel could use a firmer hand on the reins of his subject, his spirited “Mysteries” takes us on a journey through harsh but fascinating terrain.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Heretic Mysteries,” Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd St., Santa Monica.  7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Ends June 6. $25. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Photo: Dee Amerio Sudik. Credit: Melissa Snyder/Vibble.