Give In to the Temptation

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

When's the last time you were excited to go to the theater? When the event itself had to it a sense of mystery, of anticipation? Of the possibility of the unknown?

The young and extremely gifted company Four Larks manages to conjure up that excitement with their latest "junkyard opera," The Temptation of St. Antony.

What Four Larks gets, and what's missing from so much theater in LA, is a sense of event. The appreciation that, especially in Los Angeles, theater must offer its own prologue or enticement from our solitary, sprawled existence into the communal space of the theater.

How they do it is clever. For starters, they won't reveal the secret location of the show until you've bought a ticket. They'll only say it's in the core of downtown. Already the act of going to the show is special, mysterious. Once you arrive at their pop-up abandoned storefront theater, the experience begins at the front door. Their work is as much installation art as it is pure theater. The journey is considered from beginning to end.

What they've created is a little jewel of a theater: a study in found objects and the color white. Once inside, you find a tiny stage and our protagonist, St. Antony, furiously typing away on an old manual typewriter. On his right an ensemble of six musicians, including a trombone and a concert harp. Scattered onstage, cloaked in white are the other five performers.

We're greeted, when the piece begins, with a recorded voice-over of St. Antony that carries us through the first several scenes. It's the one serious misstep of the evening and understanding it's incongruity with the rest of the work helps you appreciate what makes everything else so virtuosic.

The story, such as it is, is drawn from Gustave Flaubert's epic tome. It chronicles the temptations of the hermit St. Antony as all manner of perceived demons tempt him from his solitude and his faith.

The pitfall of beginning the journey with the distant infallibility of a recorded voice robs us of not only the immediacy of the actor’s presence but the direct humanity. It's an odd choice because what Four Larks celebrate with the rest of the evening is precisely the magic of performance: the thrill of having live musicians carry us through a score that weaves folk music with opera and a clarinet with the percussive rhythms of a typewriter; the wonder of watching actors transform a world with their bodies and the creative minimal use of beautiful props; the joy of watching an actor morph into a dancer and then a singer and then blur the lines completely before your very eyes. It's a level of sophistication and artistry we don't see enough of in LA theater.

Forgive them their voice-over. Give in to their Temptation and let the rest of text wash over you as you enjoy this immersive gem. And buy tickets now, this is one that's sure to sell out.

The Temptation of St. Antony plays at a secret location in the heart of downtown through March 6.

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

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission