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Theater review: 'Dementia' at Los Angeles Theatre Center

May 14, 2010 | 11:00 am
400.Dementia photo A "It's all about the exit, you know" is the keynote of "Dementia," and what an enthralling finale its dying protagonist orchestrates.  Evelina Fernández's surreal dramedy about an AIDS-stricken stage director planning his own farewell party receives a stunning return engagement at Los Angeles Theatre Center.
Meet Moises (originator Sal López, beyond praise), better known as Moe, who may be losing control of his faculties, but he's hardly going out with a whimper. As the end nears, Moe gathers his remaining intimates for one last bash around the Expressionist nudes and forced-perspective stairs of designer Christopher Ash's marvelous set.
All his guests have issues, which gradually surface as Lupe (the ferociously talented Ralph Cole), Moe's drag queen alter ego, prompts him to push the envelope. Amid the mordant swirl of François-Pierre Couture's lighting and John Zalewski's sound, more than one revelation occurs before Moe embraces infinity.
A GLAAD award winner in its 2002 workshop, "Dementia" carries some calculated telenovela elements, which nonetheless land like gangbusters within Fernández's assured blend of camp, poetry and trenchant cultural observation. Director José Luis Valenzuela stages this Latino Theater Company production with unerring tonal control, and his ensemble could not be better.
López is hilarious and heartbreaking as Moe, while Cole carries the house from his first rendition of "My Life" (credit costumer Nikki Delhomme for Lupe's parade of fabulous gowns). 
Geoffrey Rivas and Lucy Rodriguez as a longtime collaborator and his spouse, Danny de la Paz's childhood friend, and Esperanza America Ibarra's pregnant teenage niece are uniformly formidable. And when author Fernández tears into Moe's justifiably embittered ex-wife, "Dementia" enters searing territory, after choreographer Urbanie Lucero's group dances have sent everything giddily aloft.
Those who think protease inhibitors render this remarkable play irrelevant should reference current Center for Disease Control statistics. In content and form, style and substance, "Dementia" may just be the sanest show in town.

– David C. Nichols
"Dementia," Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 30. $35.

Sal López, left, and Ralph Cole Jr. Photo credit: Ed Krieger.