They’ve Got Magic to Do

Posted: July 19th, 2011 | No Comments »

This story by Tony Frankel was originally posted at Stage and Cinema.

It simply cannot be avoided: with Fun Family Festival of Tragedy, L’Enfant Terrible, a startlingly brilliant new theatre company, is poised and ready to take over the theatre world. Founded by director Justin Zsebe, writer Angela Berliner and producer Seth Compton, this group is dedicated to the art of storytelling. On the surface, their four shows playing in repertory at the Bootleg are merely dazzling in design, festooned in frivolity, oozing with invention, and percolating with the most passionate performers in town. But, really, the goal here is compelling and unforgettable storytelling as a way to bring families and communities that much closer together. Just look at the expressions of the truly delighted adults and the children who cackle with laughter as Hamlet, Titus, Macbeth and King Lear grapple with family complications while teaching us important morals – each play does that in well under an hour. Every clown that played the Hollywood Fringe this year would do well to take a tip from L’Enfant: no matter your mastery of commedia technique, it is the way that stories are told which will win your audiences over and inspire the next generation of performing artists.

Hamlet, Prince of Puddles, already reviewed on Stage and Cinema, continues to delight as the very, very sad Hamlet (Brian Kimmet) comes to grips with a family that is falling apart. This play taught me to keep my anger in check.

Titus the Clownicus (Michael Dunn) is the boss of the Red Nose Army. But conquering the Green Noses in the Clown Wars wasn’t enough for him – no, he has to rub their noses in it, causing the demise of his children Titus Jr. (Josh Zeller) and Laughinia (Laura Castle). I couldn’t imagine how Ms. Berliner was going to handle the daughter’s vivisected tongue: a little peanut butter stuck in her mouth and speaking in Spanish renders her unintelligible to her family. The duplicitous leader of the Green Noses, Queen Tamoraclown (Jessica Hanna), weds the emperor Sillyninus (Brian Allman), even as she seeks revenge with the super-shoe-sized support of her sons, Cheeron (Robert Adler) and Dummytrius (Natasha Midgley), as well as her lover, Aaron the Bore (RJ Jones). How gloriously thrilling was it to see a slo-mo pie fight in lieu of mass murder? The costume design of Ann Closs-Farley seems to have more colors than a box of 64 crayons, and I really, really, really wish she were my friend so we could shop together. Her inventive designs simply make me happy. This play taught me to not be mean to somebody just ‘cause they’re mean to me.

Old King O’Leary (Robert Williams) is ready to divide his western Boomtown among his three daughters. All they have to do is say, “I love ya, Pa!” But young Cordelia-Mae (Angela Berliner) is banished when she cannot declare but a “peep.” She assumes the role of Mad Tom, which helps her conspire against her wicked sisters, who have taken over Boomtown, overworking the miners and being generally bad. Literally waiting in the wings is the cutest Buffalo of all time – every time Josh Zeller let out a “Ma-a-a-a-a,” the audience was ready to jump up on stage and embrace him.

What made L’Enfant’s Hamlet and Titus so wonderful was the incorporation of the tragedy with the comedy – with Lear, they went for a happy ending, which I’m not sure was necessary. Still, the design of King O’Leary is an eye-popping delight: set designer François-Pierre Couture has outdone himself with this mining town. But, really, Brian Kimmet (who plays Bastino, the sisters’ Spanish-style love interest): what the hell, man? Do you have to be so gol’ darned talented? Stop being so supremely off-the-chart watchable! You know, I’ve got a lot of amazing things to look at on that stage. Give a critic a break, wouldja? Oh, yeah, this play taught me that love is as love does. (Seriously, Kimmet, knock it off before you win an award or something.)

Macbeth and the Monster, the newest of the four, was the least successful in that the story of the Scottish tragedy was largely overlooked so that a scary bedtime story could be told to a naughty boy. Still, this outing outshines many theatrical endeavors, even as it seems better suited to the younger set than to adults. This play taught me to clean my room. (Here’s an idea: see all four shows and decide for yourself!)

Director Justin Zsebe does double duty in the back of the house; he is a one-man percussion band. My only concern is that he may be so busy helping the show that he has yet to notice how some music cues need working and some of his actors can vocally get lost within the cacophony of clowning around. We want to hear every juicy word of Berliner’s fabulously inventive scripts.

Enough praise. Get down to the Bootleg and support this company. The real tragedy would be just one empty seat at their performances.

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