Los Angeles Theater Review: A FRIED OCTOPUS (Bootleg Theater)

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by Jesse David Corti on May 30, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Retaining a cephalopod’s far-ranging spinelessness and wide-ranging tentacles, Alicia Adams and Justin Zsebe’s vanity work, A Fried Octopus, makes a squishy thud at The Bootleg. Instead of a clear narrative, what we have is an absinthe-soaked Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of Bootleg Theater's "A Fried Octopus."progression of discussions and monologues that veer from subjects like Toulouse Lautrec, divine femininity, and women in art. The result is a hodgepodge of philosophy hunting in which disparate truths are hurled at us like searching for different ideas in different windows on an Internet browser. In Fried, the creators make the mistake that this popcorn-type effect of topic jumping and oblique callbacks can work on the stage. Maybe it can, but here it is the opposite of effective. It doesn’t work because we’re not all in the same headspace as those who created it, and no effort is made to engage the audience in a way where we feel like we are connecting with what the performers are saying.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of Bootleg Theater's "A Fried Octopus."Even though his staging makes good use of the deep space and deftly plays with its four corners, Zsebe’s direction is frustrating because it is resolutely dense and defies connectedness, in spite of his smart blocking and a crackerjack team of designers. Jason Adams’ gorgeously dressed set is draped with see-through plastic lining instead of cloth; though it seems more like a jellyfish, I can see how it could be like the linings of an octopus. Actors carry a razor blade to make entrances into the plastic-lined set or erupt from an enclosed space.

Ann Closs-Farley’s black-and-white costumes carry killer steampunk flair. And Zsebe as sound designer does offer moody music and foreboding atmospheric textures. Adam Flemming’s projections are properly eerie and Francois Pierre-Couture’s lighting design is truly magnificent: His purples and greens smartly conjure up the environment of being both drowned in absinthe and deep underwater. One of the brightest moments in the piece involves the eleven o’clock can-can number courtesy of Couture’s brashly bright lights and the ensemble’s nimble pinwheel legwork.

Jesse David Corti's Stage and Cinema LA review of Bootleg Theater's "A Fried Octopus."I admire that this is a homegrown production from an experimental theater space, but an audience’s hope for something to be good and a collective effort by performers do not constitute quality. The piece attempts to be enlightening and meaningful, but its revelations land flat; its epiphanous truths are assembled incoherently and interpreted through one-dimensional utterances by the performers, save for Alicia Adams who gives her character some nuance. This is perhaps because the piece is closest to her headspace: She researched and wrote it along with Zsebe. There’s no need to succumb to this mind-numbing affair. If it’s a hangover you have a hankering for, grab a bottle of absinthe instead.

photos by Justin Zsebe
graphic image by Kate Robertson

A Fried Octopus
Bootleg Theater
scheduled to end on June 8, 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.bootlegtheater.org

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