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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Okay, there is a lot to 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips at The Wallis.

When you walk in, there is a great band playing a John Denver cover on the second level of a gorgeous set with clouds. There are actors sweeping up and cleaning in coveralls. There a ton of galvanized tubs filled with water - the kind of thing you'd see on a farm.

Once the show starts, a little girl who's looking for her cat is asked if she knows who Bertolt Brecht is. Then there's singing and puppetry and a flashback and a talented ensemble of actors who occasionally cross dress. Then there's dancing. Then the actors all play recorders - and that's all just in the first scenes of Act One.

The narrative itself is just as complicated. It's the story of a little girl in an English farm town during World War II. But it's also a story about an American military campaign. And it's also a story of two black soldiers lost in England. Then there's the bit with Hitler and Churchill playing rock, paper scissors. Again, this is just Act One.

If you're having trouble wrapping your mind around all this, don't worry you're not alone.

What's really confusing is this all works ... sort of.

Buried at the heart of the play is a fascinating bit of military history. In the months before D-Day, American troops took over a portion of the English seaside, displacing its residents so they could rehearse the invasion of Normandy in secret.

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is from British theater company Kneehigh and writer behind the hit show War Horse. If you saw that show you'll appreciate the same elements and milieu but here they are put to very different effect. Where War Horse was majestic and ominous, this show is sort of goofy and rambling.

Now if you're a World War II buff or happen to have grown up in the English countryside, you'll be deeply moved. If that's not you, you'll feel a bit like someone gazing at someone else's well photographed family album. You'll probably really appreciate the technique but you'll feel a little distant from it all.

So what's this show doing at the Wallis? The easy answer is that Paul Crewes, who's the new artistic director at the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts, is the former chief executive and executive producer for Kneehigh so it's a season selection from home for him. But what does it mean for us in Los Angeles, his new home?

That's the question the Mr. Crewes and The Wallis are still in the process of answering. Mr. Crewes’ first season at the Wallis is an ambitious if mixed bag. It's part of the crowded and confusing landscape of presenting theaters in Los Angeles that now include the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, REDCAT, The Broad, The Wallis, VPAC, to name a few.

The challenge in this crowded and complex audience landscape is why does a Los Angeles audience need to see this play in this theater right now? Without a deep answer to that question a show like 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips is going to have a difficult time connecting with that audience.

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips plays at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills through March 5.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebe in 946 : The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (SteveTanner)


Anthony Byrnes

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