Los Angeles Theater Review: THE PITCHFORK DISNEY (Coeurage Theatre Company)

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by Jason Rohrer on February 6, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


Any neighborhood with the elevated name of Silver Lake should have freshwater dolphins and interesting old hotels and a disfigured serial killer who stalks the shrubbery on the anniversary of his parasailing accident. Instead recently on a steep pavement I witnessed this conversation between an attractive pedestrian and a carload of stoned young beards:

Norelco-Overtrimmed 23-year-old, from the back seat: The Hyperion Pub, do you know where it is?

Attractive Pedestrian: The Hyperion Tavern is right down here.

NO23: The Hyperion Pub. It’s a pub.

AP: Hyperion Public has a bar. It’s on Hyperion too.

NO23: The Hyperion Pub. It’s…it’s a pub.

There’s only so much of that shit I can overhear on a Thursday. I met Silver Lake when I was too old. Parking’s not as bad as everybody says, but it’s not good. And there are lots of switchbacks and blind curves to map, so that I almost always get lost on the way home. The place discombobulates me.

Nicole Monet, Joseph V. Calarco

I went to the Lyric-Hyperion anyway, because I missed the last Coeurage Theatre show and I had told myself I wasn’t going to do that anymore, that a Coeurage show was worth going to Silver Lake.

I saw an eerie play about two grown-up babies living in squalor in an English city, twenty-something twins (Joseph V. Calarco and Nicole Monet) so symbiotically traumatized that they could be mistaken for one damaged person. Their dead parents are on their minds, and candy is in their mouths – chocolates, tranquilizers, and a grotesque xenophobic mythology with which they keep themselves entertained. Their drugged fervor, their greasy hair and rotten teeth, their pervasive panic-stricken hideousness, are shocking company. It is a horrible household. When some very questionable friends stop by (Jeremy Lelliott and Adam Kern) the evening does not become more relaxing. There’s a terrible secret or two lurking under the sweets packets and the pacifiers soaked in opiates, but as you get the place under your fingernails (you want a wash after five minutes) you realize that this is no simple mystery to be unraveled.

Nicole Monet, Jeremy Lelliott

What it is remains a question. Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney has been mystifying audiences since 1991. Superficially, Disney comes loaded with the lurid circumstances and transgressive characters of the young Pinter. It reminded me instantly of the early Lanford Wilson one-act Home Free, also about a brother and sister who ought not cohabit unsupervised. It’s compelling. It’s completely satisfying on several levels, never strident, perversely oblique, never quite comfortable as representational allegory or as specific illustration. It can feel at times as if Ridley’s trying to write too many plays at once. Vigorous, elementally aroused first plays often have this quality.

One of the writing’s many strengths is the opportunity it affords actors, and there is no question about how the Coeurage people respond to that. It is a signal virtue of this troupe to use a few well-chosen production elements to support the actor as the prime and most flexible of theatrical instruments.

Joseph V. Calarcot

Kern has the least stage time but makes such an appropriate and powerful addition to the proceedings – he is one of director Rebecca Eisenberg’s best-used devices – that I wanted more of him immediately. For his part Lelliott has to embody a dangerous and “perfect” man, and from his toned physique to his glowing skin and hair, his bright sardonic eyes and voice, he smartly, rigidly plays within that description. His casting is as impeccable as his restraint.

Monet’s sleepy sister is scary and lovable and credible and surprising in any state of consciousness. She immediately draws total sympathy, and one falls in love with her performance in the old-fashioned way: first the artist gains your trust, then you see the character, then that’s all you can see.

Joseph V. Calarco, Nicole Monet

The play belongs to Calarco, as the brother around whose inner life the action spins – maybe. It’s the flash part of the piece, a strung-out freak on a housebound trip of self-investigation, repelled by his strongest attractions, perpetually on the verge of breakthrough. The actor has assumed the recurrent snake imagery in his character’s dialogue such that he fairly slithers among the puke and cockroaches of his den, his nose spiking the air, his jaw tightly gaped with anticipation. To witness Calarco’s sustained immersion, in the confines of this very intimate venue, is a rare opportunity.

Physically, Eisenberg’s staging has a rough consistency: this is not a slick or pretty production. Amanda Stuart’s set, aside from one or two nicely abstract touches, is almost rudimentary in its realism. Technical issues severely restricted the presentation of light and sound design at the performance I attended, but if they’re anything like that set, and Marcy Hiratzka’s straightforward costumes, they’re competent and occasionally clever.

As far as I can gather, Eisenberg is not a seasoned director; like the play she’s directing, her energies struck me as a little young and occasionally misspent. This is not an easy story to find the core of, and the tension on the page is not always on the boards. While never unfocused or lost, actors tend to walk in circles, dissipating energy; the director’s physical relationships could use a stronger vocabulary, lending urgency, so that movements and moments felt more organic. Next time. She was fortunate to direct her first Coeurage production in such forgiving circumstances, with such an exemplary Coeurage cast.

Joseph V. Calarco, Jeremy Lelliott

I tell you what. Here’s what really happened: Having come to Silver Lake, at the expense of sleep, gas, time, and peace of mind, I elected to be moved and disturbed, provoked even, made more malleable and less asleep, by a vivid piece of art that costs what you want it to cost. (The Coeurage pay-what-you-want policy reflects the potentially unsustainable but edge-of-your-seat state of Los Angeles small theater, such a fascinating experiment I just can’t look away.) I, curmudgeon, left my place of business and instead of going home stayed out among my fellows for communion, which I got. Before, after, and during the show I exchanged ideas and love and respect with stimulating people who actively seek a more meaningful existence.

And as it turned out this time I did not get lost on the way home. I was too much improved by the evening, too sharpened by the show. The unwonted zig-zags of the cooler-than-thou neighborhood were themselves a stimulation, driving me to a better morning for having stayed out late on a school night. Now, for a man who often feels old, that experience is worth much greater hardships than going to a borough where young citizens dressed in my old clothes act as clueless as I did when I wore them. And if you can get me to recognize myself in a fucking hipster, you are doing something right.

photos by Nardeep Khurmi

The Pitchfork Disney
Coeurage Theatre Company
Lyric-Hyperion Theatre & Café
2106 Hyperion Ave in Silverlake
Thurs-Sat at 8
ends on March 6, 2015
for tickets, call (323) 9444-2165 or visit www.coeurage.org

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