The saying goes that no one is actually from LA, everyone comes here from somewhere else. This weekend, it seems like everything in theaters is from somewhere else, as Los Angeles is currently besieged by touring shows from abroad.
The first of these imports comes directly from the West End: Jerry Hall in a staged adaptation of the film, The Graduate. For those who haven--t seen the film, or who long to see Mick Jagger--s ex wife walk the boards, this show may have some interest. Hall offers no new insight into one of the most referenced characters from American cinema (Mrs. Robinson) but she--s the only watchable thing on stage. Those who do remember the film-who respect the film-or simply respect their free time, should avoid the Wilshire Theater until this "Graduate" transfers out of state.
The more interesting imports are at UCLA--s International Theater Festival. This weekend is the last chance to see The Hanging Man, a new play by the British Troupe known as Improbable Theater.
The Hanging Man, like many modern British ensemble works, cannot really be explained. Visually, the show might best be described as Matthew Barney meets Tilman Riemenschneider. What little plot there is, seems a mix of Wings of Desire and Ibsen--s Master Builder. Six performers play many parts, dance around, put on masks, and seem to have a really fun time on stage-anything beyond that is up for interpretation.
The members of Improbable Theater are all engaging performers and fine physical comedians. The show has a definite sense of humor, which along with its short running time, makes it an enjoyable romp-which is a real achievement given that play is almost entirely about death.
The Hanging Man is a dark play, but it pulls up short of true black comedy. This makes for a more crowdpleasing show, no doubt-but it--s a shame, since the evocative set and subtle lighting create a theatrical environment that--s truly macabre. There are one or two scenes that flirt with being genuinely profound, but the piece as a whole, while it strives for comparisons with Beckett or Camus, feels instead like comic nihilism-lite. The Hanging Man is not a masterpiece, but may be the most daring and inventive pieces of avant garde theater you--ll see in Los Angeles anytime soon.
This weekend--s final import is neither daring nor inventive, in fact it--s about as traditional one can imagine. And that is exactly what makes it so special. The Kirov Ballet has come all the way from St. Petersburg to perform La Bayadere this weekend at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
Dance companies in this country often ignore the theatrical elements of ballet and instead focus on the sheer beauty of the human body in motion. Nothing--s wrong with that, but with traditional, story ballets, one needs a little old fashion melodrama. Thankfully, these Russian artists bring out the best in ballet--s most vulgar elements: big emotions, grand gestures, all set against towering two-dimensional backdrops. It--s truly great theater-and the dancing--s not bad either.
This is James Taylor with Theater Talk for KCRW.