Theater Review: INEFFABLE (Ten West at the Theatre of Note)

by Tony Frankel on July 1, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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The spookiest image of Death (with a capital “D”) is that of a tall, hooded, scythe-carrying figure. It merely points with bony finger towards that ultimate location to which we are all headed: the end of life. The aspect that makes this sinister figure all the more terrifying is that it doesn’t speak. Words are quite practical to escape a sticky situation in life, but the inevitability of death does not allow for words. Oh, Death can hear you speak, but your demise needs no explanation: particulars such as where you go or how you die do not matter to Death. Even if one could delay Death by winning a chess match, the conclusion of your existence is certain. No words. It points. You’re dead. End of story.

It is therefore most apt that the latest show from Ten West (the silent comedy duo of Stephen Simon and Jon Monastero under the direction of Bryan Coffee) is titled Ineffable, meaning that which is too extreme to be put into words. They begin on a coffin; both actors wear black, funereal tuxedo tails, and their faces are powdery-white with black accents on their nails and around their eyes. Simon, the taller of the two, is a hooded Death; he uses his scythe as a rowing implement and the coffin for a vessel, resembling a River Styx Boatman. Monastero is the Chaplinesque Everyman who coyly tries to distract Death from his errand at hand – he mugs, points and splashes the imaginary water around the boat. The scene is breathtakingly hilarious and infinitely theatrical, celebrating Grand Guignol, vaudeville, silent movies, and commedia of the highest order.

Monastero then pulls out a camera and asks Death to take a picture of him on his farewell journey and the scene is ready for a darkly comic look at the ways in which we attempt to cheat Death, perhaps with bargaining, exercising, or denial. Or maybe Monastero will relive his life before he departs for the great beyond. You’ve never seen such a perfect set-up. The audience is appropriately rapt with fascination and empathy. In no time at all, these top-notch farceurs have achieved poignancy, laughs, pathos, charm, and more.

INEFFABLE Ten West at the Theatre of NoteYet with a sobering incongruity, the house lights come up and the boys actually lead the entire audience out of their seats and onto the stage where they pose us for a picture. It completely robbed me of my reverie, but believing this to be one way that Monastero is sidetracking Death, I whipped out my camera and took a photo. We are returned to our seats after the boys confiscate some items from the crowd. Simon turns his back to us and speaks into a microphone, asking us to stand up, sit down, stand up and sit down. Audience members are laughing and side-talking. Single women are asked to remain standing and the boys check them out.

Simon has removed his robe and the entire brilliant premise for the show is dead in the water. Turns out the vision for Ineffable is not “a clown treatise on life and death,” as promised in their ads, but an excuse to simply clown around, which, of course, they do brilliantly. Ten West has performed at Fringe Festivals, Burlesques and Cabarets around the country, so one supposes that they know what their audiences want: a one-hour series of non-sequitur skits (in this case, skirting the theme of death). There’s nothing wrong with such a set-up, but without a story we are left with some sketches that work (the opening and a scene in a funeral parlor) and some that don’t (Monastero’s bout with hay fever).

Based on this and other entries in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, it appears that the MTV generation has come home to roost. Either younger audiences do not have the attention span for a one-hour story or the art of storytelling is dying out. Certainly, Ineffable is serving its immediate audience, as some members chuckled with glee, but I challenge Ten West to create entertainment that is cathartic, not just silly. Perhaps this show would be perfect at an adult’s Birthday Party, but it lacks resonance in the theatre. Instead of watching the Everyman cheat Death, I feel like I was the one who got cheated.

tonyfrankel @

photos by Cameron McIntyre

ended its run in Los Angeles on June 25
but Ten West continues to tour
for tickets, visit

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