Okay, let's do this in reverse.
Theatre Movement Bazaar's "The Grail Project" is probably 15 minutes too long, the quest itself is a little bit of a cop out, and the end doesn't really land.
I want to get all that out of the way so I can tell you that this is a show with some flaws but also a show you really need to see.
Theatre Movement Bazaar is a Los Angeles company I've loved for almost two decades now. I’ve followed their work through a slew of LA's intimate theaters starting at Sacred Fools, then 24th Street, the Getty Villa, and now Bootleg. They're that most valuable of LA theater commodities: a director and writer driven ensemble that's exploring and expanding their own aesthetic style.
To understand what makes the company extraordinary it's helpful to understand their particular spin on theater.
"The Grail Project" has at its foundation the lore of King Arthur's court from knights of the round table, to Lancelot and Guinevere, to the quest for the holy grail - but don't think this is going to be anything like a trip to medieval times.
Instead, this is a roundtable filled with knights that look like they just stepped out a 70's disco in open collared shirts. The sound bed underneath a key scene is a loop from the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" and at the culmination of Guinevere and Lancelot's dalliance, Guinevere breaks into a stunning live rendition of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" while the rest of the cast does a funky disco line dance. But before you peg this as some hipster retread of a medieval tale, there's more going on here. For the women, this is as much about now as way back then. There’s talk of glass ceilings and fighting the patriarchy. We hear echoes in the tight dialogue of questionable chivalry and the ridiculous idea of courtly love. The text is often rapid-fire that’s laid on top of choreography that infuses both what you'd recognize as dance numbers and also highly-stylized blocking resulting in a performance style that keeps both performers and audience members on their toes. Mixed with the dry wit that’s behind all of the company's work, the result is a commentary both on the ancient legend and our own foibles. It's simultaneously biting and absurd.
All of this is keeping with the company's long held aesthetic.
What's exciting with this production is the singing and music. Theatre Movement Bazaar have always been masters of soundscape, underscoring their scenes with cleverly edited loops. What's new is the cast breaking into tight harmonies of original lyrics. Or the moments when the whole ensemble forms a makeshift percussion orchestra accompanying accordion and guitar. It's a new tool in their impressive toolbox. It's popped up in previous productions but this is the first time the caliber of song matches the already stellar movement, design and writing.
If you haven't seen Theatre Movement Bazaar's work before "The Grail Project" is a fantastic place to start and, if like me, you've adored their work for years it's thrilling to see a local company continue to evolve without losing their way.
Don't miss this one.
"The Grail Project" plays at the Bootleg Theater downtown through March 11th.
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes without an intermission.