Los Angeles Theater Review: MUTANT OLIVE (Lounge Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Paul Birchall on January 26, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles

MUTANT — AS IN FREAK OF NATURE

MutantOlive_2byEdKriegerAfter watching the roaring, sputtering, and cursing along with regretful descriptions of drug use and parental abuse back in the “bad old days,” I had to ask myself, “Wha’ kind of crazy fucking show is this?” I’m not really one to use such language, but writer-performer Mitch Hara’s solo show put me in the state of mind to do so—not because of any innate dispute in quality, but because, well, the production is somehow directly in touch with some kind of ambiguous touchstone of inner rage.

It’s as if Hara’s onstage antics are somehow hard-wired to an instinctively recoiling nerve of anger and insanity: He blusters and snarls with a fury that seems deceptively uncontrolled in a performance which crackles with weirdness. One is ultimately not sure of what to think about what we’re seeing; it’s difficult to quantify, let alone pass judgment on. And, yeah, it’s a rather foul-mouthed show, too, but this only adds to the piece’s inveterately odd energy.

MutantOlive_3byEdKriegerOn the surface, Mutant Olive appears to be a rather traditional one-man show of the time-honored “actor telling his life story as a showcase” motif.  Hara plays an aspiring actor by the name of Adam Astra, who arrives at the theater for an audition. He’s desperate to play the role of “Happy” Loman in a production of Death of a Salesman, in spite of the fact he’s at least two generations too old. However, the good impression he hopes to make with the director is sabotaged by an unwelcome phone call from Astra’s dad, a belittling monster of larger-than-life hatefulness who lives to undercut Astra’s self-esteem. This would be enough to cause anyone to crack—and emotionally melt down Astra does, unspooling a wrathful and sometimes bitter “autobiography” that includes years of drug use, homosexual nymphomania, and damaging self-destructiveness.

While watching director Terri Hanauer’s electrically paced production, we’re struck by the manic ferocity Hara brings to the role, which we suspect is really based on his own autobiography filtered through the Astra character. What’s interesting here is that, while watching, we are never allowed to feel particularly “safe.” Hara’s Astra MutantOlive_1byEdKriegerroars with rage about his teenage speed addiction just as easily as he shrieks his audition piece (Puck’s monologue from Midsummer performed as a goombah pizza parlor owner), and the general atmosphere of unpredictability which springs from the performance is often compelling.

With eyes that crackle with madness, a smiling leer that sometimes seems anything but smiley, and flailing arms whose fingers crisply flap jazz hand-style, Hara’s go-for-broke performance is compulsively watchable even while it’s strangely loathsome, and his explosive energy is frequently terrifying. He puts everything onto the stage, and the turn is complex and unsettling. Many of his “war stories” about his “bad old days” play like regret, but there’s also a slight undercurrent of wistfulness that lends the work an unexpected layer of moral ambivalence: Are we supposed to envy him his life or pity it? If you lived in Los Angeles for any length of time, you’d know characters like this guy, making this fucking show a surprisingly original thrill.

photos by Ed Krieger

Mutant Olive
Lounge Theatre
6201 Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood
Thurs-Sat at 8
ends on February 28, 2015
for tickets, call 323.960.7861 or visit Plays411

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