Visual Feasts

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

Los Angeles theater has to it a bit of feast or famine.

Right now there are two shows downtown that are visual feasts with challenging narratives that you shouldn't miss.

The first is Argentinian director Mariano Pensotti's return to REDCAT with Cineastas. Lucky Angeleno's will remember Mr. Pensotti's El Pasado Es Un Animal Grotesco from 2012. That jarring epic chronicled 10 years in the life of four Argentinian 20-somethings on a constantly revolving stage. If, like me, you were blown away by that show, Cineastas is tapping the same vein. The two hour show follows the work of four filmmakers in Buenos Aires. The set is a two-story, wide screen box. Downstairs: the real life encounters of these 'filmmakers;' upstairs: a theatrical version of the films they’re making - not projections but actors acting out the film. At times, there is an eerie unity between creator and created. One story line follows the sickness of one of the filmmakers and as he visits the doctor we see both his examination and above him the more stylized 'film' version moving in perfect mirrored unison. But then there are radical departures between the two visual fields. Another storyline follows a man toiling away at a McDonald's. His artistic outlet? A film about a man kidnapped and forced to wear a Ronald McDonald costume 24 hours a day.

Mr. Pensotti's gift is for bringing the visual language and propulsive drive of the cinema into the theater. The stories unfold continuously as the five actors dissolve from one story to the next, seamlessly switching characters and providing an almost constant voiceover for each other's sagas. As cinematic as these tales are, they also feel profoundly novelistic. Mr. Pensotti is both writer and director and you can't help but feel his voice guiding us like a 19th century author through his characters interior worlds.

Now this whole journey is performed in Spanish with English subtitles. Given the sheer volume of text, the subtitles don't cover everything. My advice - let go and let it wash over you. Even if you don't speak Spanish the actors will take care of you.

Cineastas closes this Saturday, so make plans now.

For the second visual feast downtown, you must go see Four Lark's The Temptation of St. Antony. This young company created one of my favorite theatrical events of last year with their junkyard opera Orpheus. They're back and have created another artistically sophisticated and visually immersive gem. Perhaps what's most striking is how rarely we see this kind of work in LA's small theaters. The show has a six piece ensemble complete with cello and concert harp - and the actors could just as easily be called dancers or singers. I'll talk more about it more next week. For now, I'd offer the same advice: let go of the text and just let it wash over you. That and buy tickets, it closes February 26 and last year's show sold out.

The Temptation of St. Antony plays downtown at a secret location through February 26.

Cineastas plays downtown at REDCAT through this Saturday, February 21.

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

Photo: Carlos Furman