A World of Desire

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

The question raised by two works performed in Southern California this weekend is: To what length will we go to pursue a forbidden desire? And though subject is the same, the two shows are separated by 50 miles, 100 years and two radically different styles and audiences. They both have at their heart - desire.

Let’s start downtown at REDCat with a group of visiting Poles. The Stefan Zeromski Theatre’s In the Solitude of Cotton Fields is a very modern play - part meditation, part rave, part concert, and part drama. As the curtain opens we see two men in hip black suits cruising each other in a park. It’s that time of night where as one of them utters, “men behave like beasts.” The live techno music of the Polish quartet Natural Born Chillers creates a pulsing background as we catch the two men in a ‘negotiation.’ We’re not really sure what’s being dealt, or for that matter who’s dealing. What is clear is there is a desperate desire on the part of both men to complete the transaction. The currency is desire and need. The piece skates at the edge of experimental theater and the only grounding force is two virtuosic performances. At times they deliver their lines like an Iggy Pop screech then suddenly shift to almost Becket-like lyrical commentary. In one instant their words are in stark contrast to the electronic drones of the band and in the next the words give way to a lead singer’s wail that send shivers down your spine. It’s all in Polish, and I still understood every word.

Travel 50 miles south and a hundred years into the past and you find yourself in the genteel drawing room of George Bernard Shaw’s classic Misalliance.

Shaw’s comedy of manners concerns chiefly whether the young daughter of a wealthy underwear tycoon will give up desire and marry the witty but wimpy Bentley.

But the play is grounded by the tremendous performances of Dakin Matthews and Richard Doyle, a pair of aging gentleman who still have the virility to fall in love with young beautiful women. The joy of the play is listening to them bring Shaw’s language and thinking to life: Matthews with a giddy childlike glee balanced by the understated and subtle performance of Doyle.

Strangely, it’s not just desire, and two great actors, that tie the formality of Shaw to a piece of modern experimental theater, but Poland - in the case of Misalliance, the Pole is a beautiful young acrobat who literally falls from the sky. She serves as the common denominator to both men’s not so forbidden desire.

The two plays are operating at opposite ends of the theatrical spectrum: one uses language as a screeching howl of the soul; the other as a witty game of the intellect that conceals as much as it reveals. One blurs the lines between music and theater while the other embraces the rigor of form.

Two cities, one desire. If you like it hip and edgy – it’s at REDCat. If you like it traditional – it’s at South Coast Rep.

Alas, the Poles have already gone home. But there’s more great stuff in REDCat’s fall schedule available at REDCat.org. Misalliance plays at South Coast Rep through October 10.

For info on the shows text the word ‘curtain’ to 69866.

What’s your desire, the experimental or the classical? Join the conversation at KCRW.com/theatre.

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

REDCat: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater
631 W 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012-2599

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw, directed by Martin Benson
September 10 - October 10, 2010 at South Coast Repertory
Box Office: 714-708-5555

Banner image: (L) Tomasz Nosinski in In the Solitude of Cotton Fields. Photo by Maciek Zorawiecki; (R) Dakin Matthews (John Tarleton) in SCR's 2010 production of Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw. Photo by Henry DiRocco/SCR