A theatrical bologna sandwich

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

The play Plasticity welcomes the audience into its world with remarkable projections.

We seem to be floating through someone's mind. There are what look like spidery neural pathways, the kind of thing you'd see in a scientific rendering of the brain. A glowing dot travels down one of these strands until it approaches what must be a synapse. Suddenly it explodes into a collage of images: there's a sepia toned video of kids playing, a young girl beckoning us to join her in a tree, a kid in a superman costume runs by, a parent hugs a child, a bird, a park -- time and space are fluid and magical. It feels like we're randomly accessing someone's memories. Childhood, now, then, ideas, dreams: all are coming to life before our eyes.

This magic was created by video designer Corwin Evans and part of what gives it such an evocative quality is that it literally has dimension to it, layers. We're watching two projection screens at once. One on the back wall of the theater farthest from us. The other is a translucent black scrim hanging on the downstage edge of the stage (you know, where the red velvet curtain hangs in a traditional theater?). So we're looking through one ghostly image to see another. Mr. Evans uses this to great effect to frame some images, echo others.

The playing space, the stage, is caught or sandwiched between these two screens.

This all sounds really exciting, doesn't it?

Technically it is but like with anything sandwiched it's what's on the inside that really matters. Unfortunately, for Plasticity the filling is the theatrical equivalent of bologna.

After the opening video montage, the three-dimensional journey through the memories of a brain give way to an all too two-dimensional one-man show. Our story revolves around a young man in a coma. He's stuck in a hospital bed and we learn about his life and condition through a handful of characters all brought to life by actor Alex Lyras, who also co-wrote the script. He plays our patient's doctor, his twin brother, the shrink of his fiancée, basically whatever character is necessary for the story or to showcase the acting of our lead.

The question that tries to animate this medical soap opera is superficially: will this man ever regain consciousness? Really, that's just an excuse to talk about big ideas and make reference to significant medical plot points like feeding tubes, do not resuscitate directives, and a durable power of attorney.

The story unfolds across a series of monologues or imagined dialogues that split the hour and 45 minutes into short staccato snippets. A little of this character, a little of that.

The trouble is the multitude of characters that are brought to life are at best caricatures and at worst questionable stereotypes. We have the Indian doctor, the nebbishy Jewish attorney, the Italian mob-y lawyer, the pot-smoking, spoken-word-spouting black hospital orderly . . . you get the idea, right? While, thankfully, no women are embodied, they don't fair much better. Let's just say the sexual and racial politics of this piece are more than a little suspect.

This is all a shame because it's a technically ambitious show with a rich layered visual concept. If only the writing and acting weren’t so two dimensional.

Plasticity plays at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood through May 22.

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

Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Actor Alex Lyras in Plasticity (Jessica Sherman)