A Vaudevillian Prism

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

It's rare, while enjoying a play, for me to think, "gosh, I wish this was dinner theater!"

Even rarer that that's a compliment . . . but from the opening lobby serenade, complete with accordion, checkered table cloth, and wrapped Chianti bottle, Big Shot, the latest from Theatre Movement Bazaar, had me craving a good meatball.

Now if you don't know Theatre Movement Bazaar, they're one of my favorite LA companies as much for their dry, insightful wit as their performative genius. Their basic M.O. is to take an idea (ones from the past include Anton Chekhov, international espionage, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and dissect and illuminate it through a vaudevillian prism that results in a clever marriage of dance, theater, and image.

For Big Shot their inspiration is The Godfather -- which would explain all the Italian-American stereotypes and the cutout of Marlon Brando in the lobby. But this isn't fan fiction or a campy sendup like Point Break - Live. There's a touch of that but it's more like your really clever friend, who's a cultural critic, got together with a talented choreographer and a cast that can sing and dance and decided to put together some skits about a film that's become a cultural icon.

The strength of Big Shot rests on the company's body of work, the chops and precision of the cast, and our collective adoration of The Godfather. This is, by far, the most accessible of Theater Movement Bazaar's pieces because while it likely takes a theater nerd to appreciate an inside joke on Chekhov or Tennessee Williams who doesn't have a favorite line in The Godfather.

True to their subversive but loving hearts, Tina Kronis and Richard Alger (the geniuses behind Theater Movement Bazaar) spin our knowledge of the film into an invitation to consider the films stereotypes, unlikely success, and violent misogyny. The result is a sort of cabaret/vaudeville that juxtaposes riffs on the film with gestural dances of violence and machismo to singing re-imagined Italian-American classics.

I really want to tell you that everything works in Big Shot and you should race out to see it. The challenge is that they're on to something really exciting but it's not all in balance yet. Having chosen a subject the audience is so familiar with, like The Godfather, the stakes are high. While all the individual scenes work, they don't really string together into a bigger whole. The narrative threads, even when abstract, need to be woven into a more cohesive arc because if you're going to complicate how we see the film -- well, that's complicated.

For now, grab some friends who are movie nerds, some who love edgy theater, make a post-show reservation at your favorite red-sauce Italian place, buy some tickets to Big Shot and make them all an offer they can't refuse.

Big Shot plays at the Bootleg Theater on the edge of downtown through June 6.

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

Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Shanon Rodriguez