Don Shirley

Don Shirley

Don Shirley writes about theater for LA Observed. He is the former longtime theater writer for the Los Angeles Times, LA Stage Times and other publications.

Tigers Tigers Burning Bright

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LA STAGE WATCH is a series of articles by staff writer/blogger Don Shirley.

The terrific Land of the Tigers first opened at Sacred Fools Theater last March 27. That same day, LA CityBeat folded without warning, ending the theater column I wrote for that newspaper and its web site. I saw Tigers the next day, but I had no place to publicly express my enthusiasm for it.

Problem solved. Land of the Tigers re-opened at the Lost Studio last Friday. And my new blog, LA Stage Watch, started this week.

Tigers, another cockeyed creation from the Burglars of Hamm (Carolyn Almos, Matt Almos, Jon Beauregard, Albert Dayan), has two very different but related acts.

The first act is a mock-stagy fable about romance and rivalries within a tribe of anthropomorphized tigers who are threatened by global cooling — a Metaphor for global warming. The second act depicts the process that supposedly created the first act, as the eager acolytes who belong to a small-theater ensemble try to find their inner tigers — in present-day Los Angeles.

Land of the Tigers could be Exhibit A in the argument I made a few days ago that all theater is local. This is a show that both honors and skewers L.A. theater artists — people who are much like the creators and performers of Tigers itself.

<p>The Land of the Tigers - Act I</p>

Its most specific target audience is almost identical to that of LAStageBlog. That’s not to say that others won’t like it — many people who aren’t dedicated to theater would find it funny and even moving. But for anyone who’s reading this, it’s time to take the Tiger by the tail and get over to the Lost Studio.

You shouldn’t miss Hugo Armstrong’s Ovation Award-nominated, double-barreled performance, first as the dashing rebel Sabretooth, then as a doofus-like would-be actor. Cody Henderson and Dean Gregory nail the primary antagonists of the second act — the former as a would-be playwright and the latter as a lean, mean acting guru.

Maybe it helps that Henderson is indeed a playwright and that Gregory, according to his program bio, “dedicates his performance to the big cats at the Wildlife Waystation, whose power and beauty guide him to know who he is.” An inside joke lurks inside that line, waiting to pounce when you see the play. Let’s just say that Gregory, playing a man, is more like a tiger than are the first act’s “tigers” who emulate human beings.

Matt Almos’ staging is replete with such small ironies, as well as bigger laughs and surprisingly melancholic moments, especially in the second act. You might have to bear with a few moments of the first act until you figure out why it behaves the way it does, but the rewards are worth the momentary head-scratching.

With Tigers joining such previous Burglars productions as Resa Fantastiskt Mystisk, Easy Targets and Focus Today, the Hammsters are up there with the better-known Troubies and Culture Clash as L.A.’s masters of long-form theatrical satire.

<p>The Land of the Tigers - Act II</p>
The Land of the Tigers – Act II

The Burglars’ topics might seem more insular than those of the other groups. But not always — in the first act of Tigers, the ho-hum reaction of the big cats’ governing council to evidence of “global cooling” uncannily resembles the inaction of Senate Republicans who boycotted hearings on the global warming bill last week.

When these Burglars case the joint, hidden satirical gems virtually jump out of the safe.

Land of the Tigers continues at the Lost Studio, 130 S. La Brea Ave.; Nov. 13, 14, 20, 21; Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 13; 8 p.m. Tickets at BrownPaperTickets.com or at 310-440-0221.

Speaking of ultra-L.A.-specific plays, Bleeding Through inhales and exhales the atmosphere of the ’20s through the ’40s in Angelino Heights, the neighborhood that’s just across the Hollywood Freeway from the production’s venue at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (the headquarters of the company formerly known as Shakespeare Festival/LA).

Adapted from Norman Klein’s novella and DVD of the same name, Bleeding Through places spectators in a loosely arranged collection of chairs in the center of the action. Scenes take places on all sides of the audience, so some swivel-necking is necessary to see everything. Vinny Golia and Scott Collins play Golia’s moody score in one corner of the room. Claudio Rocha’s videos sometimes screen on one of the walls. At intermission, the audience is invited to sift through a collection of historical materials about the neighborhood, placed in two rooms of Akeime Mitterlehner’s set. Dark spaces separate some of the set pieces, emphasizing the unknowns.

The narrative has some components familiar from noir fiction, but not the underlining and the sense of parody that too often dominate staged adaptations of noir (for example, Bill Robens’ recent Kill Me, Deadly at Theatre of NOTE). Here, Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo (of About Productions) try to honor the aesthetic of Klein’s original by preserving the narrative’s ambiguity, leaving many questions unanswered.

It’s a goal that’s a more natural fit for a novella, a DVD or a gallery exhibition than it is for a play — which begins and ends at defined points in time and therefore lacks the open-ended quality of those other media. Theatergoers who expect conventional resolutions might be disappointed, but at least the ambiguity feels purposeful, authentically driven by Klein’s vision.

Bleeding Through continues at the Shakespeare Center, 1238 W. 1st St.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; closing Nov. 22. Tickets at www.aboutpd.org or at 800-595-4849.

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