Theater Review: CRABS IN A BUCKET (World Premiere by Echo Theatre Company at Atwater Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on July 31, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles


Ah, Theatre of the Absurd. a place where characters can grapple with existentialism, that which is the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. Well, not always people. In the case of Crabs in a Bucket, it’s, well, crabs. Bernardo Cubría‘s fascinating premise examines the crab mentality, which is when crabs stuffed in a bucket actually do not allow their fellow crustaceans to leave. We meet four such crabs in this Beckettian universe which mirrors man’s weird little game of bringing others down when they are near to success. It’s at turns charming and compelling, and stuffed with whimsy and allegory — a little No Exit and a little Seascape — but would have been well-served being a little more Albee and a little less glib.

Jordan Hull and Michael Sturgis

Amargo and Pootz (Xochitl Romero and Anna LaMardrid) are resentful about being stuck at the bottom of a Home Depot bucket (fanciful set by Amanda Knehans). Instead of figuring a way out, they relegate themselves to gossip about other crabs. When youthful Beb (Jordan Hull) arrives full of sunshine and lollipops about the world, Amargo and Pootz do their best to convince her that its best to resign in bitterness and despair to a life in the bucket. You ain’t getting out. Then Mamon (Michael Sturgis) arrives, but this crab has a history, having escaped before, leaving behind his his former best friend Amargo.

Jordan Hull, Michael Sturgis, Anna LaMadrid and Xochitl Romero

I like the script, actually. Cubría can be very smart, and his take on existentialism — that we have the freedom to choose what we become — is right on. And as with existentialism, his play says that there is no Divine Plan in this plastic home, and events are random and seem even cruel. Crabs are responsible for their own thoughts and actions. However, as we discover through Amargo, this responsibility of decision, action, and beliefs can be overwhelming, thereby causing profound anxiety and/or inaction. Whenever Amargo feels challenged to leave the bucket, her angst fuels the desire to boss around Pootz and put down Beb and fight with her bestie.

Anna LaMadrid and Xochitl Romero

The play is enjoyable, alternately funny and silly. In the end, however, the 70 minutes feel slight. And since Cubría has decided to eschew that kind of language which makes Beckett universal and timeless, it also feels temporary. His use of “they” singular and PC tropes and crab allusions for swear words like “pinchy” and “what the shell” and “shucking bucket” are easy and beneath the caliber of a writer I truly admire (The Play You Want, The Giant Void in My Soul). It’s not the allegories that stick when we leave, it’s the premise, a choice cast, the way director Alana Dietze has the crabs sidle (absolutely hilarious), Lou Cranch‘s playful blue crab outfits, the crab allusions. And since the cast is directed to be presentation (well, rasping and rapping), I wonder what Crabs in a Bucket would be like if actors delivered dialogue as serious as they would in Endgame? In the end, while it says nothing new (but what does these days?), Cubría’s crabs entertain but could dig deeper.

photos by Cooper Bates

Crabs in a Bucket
Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.
Fri, Sat, and Mon at 8; Sun at 4 (Mondays pay–what–you–want)
ends on August 21, 2023
for tickets ($34), call 310.307.3753 or visit Echo

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