Los Angeles Theater Review: THE RIDICULOUS DARKNESS (Son of Semele Ensemble)

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by Tony Frankel on October 30, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles


I had a college film-course assignment: Read Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella The Heart of Darkness and then watch Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film adaptation, Apocalypse Now. In the novella, a British ivory transporter named Marlow develops a concentrated curiosity about an ivory-procurement agent named Kurtz while journeying up the Congo River. Marlow ultimately discovers the shocking treatment that European traders have inflicted upon the natives, and relates in first-person flashback his story about the inherent cruelty of imperialism (“The horror! The horror!”). Coppola’s epic picture—notorious for being as horrifying to make as it is to watch—updates the story to the Vietnam War. The book upset me and the movie frightened me. I have always had a profound sense of injustice, and to hear of and witness the domination and exploitation of one culture over another made me sick.

At Son of Semele, German playwright Wolfram Lutz’s radio play The Ridiculous Darkness takes us on a different journey—it’s a silly, often very funny, on-the-nose parody, which mixes the book and film sources with current events. Adapted as a stage play—which is more Saturday Night Live-type sketches than story—this pointed but sometimes confusing indictment of colonialism, and how it’s not restricted to one place or time, takes place in the rainforests of Afghanistan, where two soldiers, relating the tale to us on microphones as if in a lecture hall, are on a hush-hush operation to find a rogue officer. On the way, they meet up with an array of eccentric characters: There’s a Somali pirate who blames the overfishing of other countries for his thievery; an Italian UN interceder; a talking parrot; a peddler; and—my favorite—a lascivious preacher who lectures about the sins of organized religion, only to sexually enslave the villagers (hysterically dressed like the loony-tune animated natives displayed on TV monitors flanking the stage).

As with the source material, director Matthew McCray’s astoundingly inventive production has the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream, so it’s easy to swallow the absurdity and sometimes puerile humor—a game cast helps, too. It’s a hoot, but some of the monologues feel overlong, and this series of events becomes a bit wearisome, even at 95 minutes, as the story plays second fiddle to the send-up.

photos courtesy of Son of Semele

The Ridiculous Darkness
Son of Semele Ensemble
Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd.
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 5;
Mon (Oct 30 and Nov 6) at 7
for tickets, visit Son of Semele

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