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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Blood! Love! Madness

My hand has become a machine and to prove I am still alive, I would let my razor slip once --- Tamekichi, a barber

Blood! Love! Madness!
(top) Silas Weir Mitchell (bottom Simon Anthony (Photo: Rebecca Sapp Paris/WireImage )
The Actors' Gang premieres its new venue at the Ivy Substation Theatre in Culver City with three one-act Japanese plays, an appropriate salute to the Pacific Rim. To anyone who is familiar with Japan's Kabuki theatre it's a welcome chance to revisit its traditions in this beautifully staged production. Those who aren't can enjoy BLM for its drama, color and content.

Although these plays were written in rebellion against conventional Japanese theatre, the setting, costumes and even a pseudo-Hanamichi or raised passageway could be seen on the Kabuki stage in Tokyo. Because the Ivy is small the Hanamichi runs across the front of their stage instead of to the side but the dramatic effect is the same, shadowing characters on the brink of existence,.and underscoring the importance of entrances and exits in life.

The first and oldest play, The Razor by Kimizo Nakamura is the most reminiscent of Japanese theatre. Silas Weir Mitchell's characterization of Tamekichi, the barber, blends Japanese performance style with Western psychological interpretation and holds the stage with devastating authority. This story of a frustrated barber whose razor offers his one moment of power comes to a powerful and surprising climax.

The middle play, Madman on the Roof by Kan Kikuchi, holds the position of a "Kyogen" or short comic interlude performed between tragedies. But the comedy, with its poignant message strongly delivered by Daisuke Tsuji as The Brother, is the most touching of the three. It's the only play that casts a man as a woman (Simon Anthony as The Neighbor), a faint homage to the ancient Kabuki tradition in which men played all the roles.

The final play, The Dressing Room by Shimizu Kunio, uses Nina's monologue in Chekhov's The Seagull to explore the passion, desperation and conflicts of aspiring actresses locked in an eternal rehearsal for that big break that will never come. Vanessa Mizzone plays the older actress who, in a wonderfully obvious way, clutches her breasts to demonstrate her characters' passion, whether male or female. Lindsley Allen is her opposite number, petite and adorable but clever at undermining. Riki Lindhome, in the performance viewed, played Kiiko, the prompter, with a wholesome quality and unalloyed ambition. Beth Tapper, in the central role of Actress C, vividly inhabits the maniacal anger of her character but has been allowed to scream throughout and, without a vocal range to vary the emotions, they lose much of their effect.

John Zalewski's wonderful sound effects include murmuring drums that growl into climactic moments and music, such as the haunting Japanese classic "Sakura." Adam H. Greene's subtle lighting design is an integral part of the production's emotional life. Ann Closs-Farley designed harmonious and, in the case of Madman, outrageously over-the-top costumes and Sibyl Wickersheimer's beautiful bamboo-backed set is a delight.

Aided by an excellent acting ensemble, Brent Hinkley directs with a deft blend of Asian subtlety and Western passion. The dichotomy is dramatically demonstrated when every loud blow is rimmed by a silvery gong.

One of Hinkley's best innovations is the use of black-robed stage assistants to offer props. In Japan they are most often seen as Bunraku puppet-masters. The program notes here say they can serve as prompters because Kabuki programs change frequently. That presumably was the intent here when the fine actor Steven M. Porter called for a prompter several times in the first play, though not in the second. It was an homage that didn't work well, even if one has read the program notes. Since Porter is the only one to use it, it's questionable quality does a disservice to an outstanding actor.

The Actors' Gang is off to a brilliant start in their new home, with actors, production elements and program choices that are sure to add to their luster as an innovative provocative company.

Director: Brent Hinkley
The Razor by Kimizo Nakamura
Cast: Silas Weir Mitchell (Tamekichi), Kaili Hollister (Oshika), Chris Schultz (Noguchi), Josh Zeller (Kanshichi), Steven M. Porter (Sato), Simon Anthony (Okada).
Madman on the Roof by Kan Kikuchi
Cast: Steven M. Porter (Father), Toni Torres (Mother), Nathan Kornelis (Servant), Sienna McCandless (Madman), Simon Anthony (Neighbor), Aimie Billon (Priestess), Daisuke Tsuji (Brother).
The Dressing Room by Shimizu Kunio
Cast: Beth Tapper (Actress C), Vanessa Mizzone (Actress A), Lindsley Allen (Actress B), Angela Berliner, Riki Lindhome in the performance viewed (Actress D).
Set Design: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Lighting Design: Adam H. Greene
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Sound Design: John Zalewski
Running Time: Two and a half hours, one intermission
Running Dates: 9/01/05 to 11/19/05
The Actors' Gang at The Ivy Substation Theatre, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City, Ph: (310) 838-GANG (4264)
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on September 17.

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