Los Angeles Theater Review: SYNESTHESIA (Bootleg Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on May 29, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Conceived by Ashlin Halfnight and Melanie Sylvan at New York’s Electric Pear Productions, Synesthesia can easily be classified in the “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Department. The performance piece (actually, eight performance pieces in one) is a multi-medium event with such a clever concept that one would suspect the outcome would pale compared to the idea, but in its west coast premiere now playing at the Bootleg, Synesthesia is as fun, quirky and inventive as its notion.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of Synesthesia at BootlegFive months ago, an aerial artist and dancer named Ruby Karen sat before a bowl of fortune cookies, and arbitrarily plucked one out and cracked it open. Ms. Karen would now have two weeks to generate an aerial performance piece based simply on the fortune in her hand – whatever the fortune inspired was fine as long as it remained within her specialized form of art. After two weeks’ time, she executed her new work for Spoken Word artist Aldo Pisano and a small technical crew at the Bootleg (a taped composition by William Meyers accompanied her act, which was performed with character dancer Luca Cecchini). Mr. Pisano, without knowing the cookie’s sage advice (and without being able to take notes) then had two weeks to design his own piece inspired by the aerialist’s act. Before he went off to compose his oral opus, his reaction to Karen’s piece was videotaped.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of Synesthesia at BootlegThe same process continued with six more artists who covered a fascinating variety of disciplines: Singer/Songwriter John Bobek (aided by singer Nora Davis and drummer Matt Lucich); Lighting and Projection Designer Marc Rosenthal (a piece performed by choreographer/dancer Michelle “Star” LaVon and Russia Hardy); American Sign Language singer/songwriter Michael Bonnabel (with guitarist Ken Weiler); Commedia dell’Arte performer John Achorn; Musical Theatre Composer Rocco Vitacco; and, finally, actor and chef Michael Dunn, who created a unique first-time-ever dish served in a Chinese food carton for every audience member.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of Synesthesia at BootlegNo, I’m not going to tell you what they did. The experience is practically unreviewable. Part of the fun is witnessing all eight acts in a row and trying to figure out what the fortune said. Snippets of the videotaped artists are shown for the audience, but the enjoyment of the night stems from witnessing both the creative process and its results. None of the acts are so avant garde as to alienate you, and while you may have a favorite piece, there isn’t a clunker in the bunch. Certainly, some acts sparkle more than others, but director Cate Caplin keeps the evening moving at a good clip.

Tony Frankel’s Los Angeles review of Synesthesia at BootlegAnd as for a review, let me just say to Commedia dell’Arte performer John Achorn: You are a god, sir. To ASL songwriter Michael Bonnabel: Thanks for moving me. To singer John Bobeck: Cool, dude. To chef Michael Dunn: your glorious personality would light up any room – I have given full permission to the networks to create your own combination sit com and cooking show. And to guitarist Ken Weiler: Your generous and playful expressiveness is soaked with star-quality; I could watch you play for hours.

Since these L.A. artists are performing their work for the first time, you could say that the idea of the show is receiving its west coast premiere, not this actual version of Synesthesia, which is a world premiere based on an East Coast concept. Art is so subjective, ain’t it?! Anyway, thanks to Athena Theatre and Bootleg Theater for synthesizing a very cool piece of pieces.

photos by biz urban photography

Presented by Athena Theatre at The Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles
Mondays only at 7:30
scheduled to end on June 11
for tickets and more info, visit http://www.athenatheatre.com/synesthesia/

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