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Cinema Verité

by Rich See

This is an art gallery. We are the art.
---Marcus Lawrence as Lazlo

John Horn, Kate Debelack, Brent Lowder and Marcus Lawrence
J. Horn, K. Debelack, B. Lowder and M. Lawrence
(Photo: Ian Armstrong)

Popism returns for one brief, silver lamé moment with Cherry Red Production's newest endeavor -- Cinema Verité. Written by playwright Wendy MacLeod, Cinema Verité lampoons the narcissism and self-importance of Andy Warhol and his "Factory" of art film stars. MacLeod who also wrote Schoolgirl Figure and Apocalyptic Butterflies pokes fun at every aspect of Warhol's Factory, without ever actually pointing a finger at the famed artist. It's an inspired bit of theatre that's very funny, and in Cherry Red's capable hands, it's sickly twisted and disturbed.

A quick run down of the plot...It's New York City, 1966 and famed artist Lazlo (Marcus Lawrence) has pulled together the "Starbabies" of his Factory to hold a panel discussion of what happened the night his protégé, Baby Amore, was burned at the stake during the filming of his newest project Joan of Arc. Baby Amore, described as beautiful, self-absorbed, and boring -- unless she was on speed -- was Lazlo's favorite star, much to the delight of fellow celebrities Fabula Rasa (Brent Lowder) and Baby Aubrey (John Horn). And much to the chagrin of overlooked Baby Maybelline (Kate Debelack). On that tragic night of drinking, drugging, and filming in Lazlo's living room, Baby Amore was tied up, given a cigarette, and then accidentally set afire as she posed for filming while awaiting a milk shake. The ring of asbestos designed to protect her had been mysteriously scattered, and Baby Maybelline was soon roasting marshmallows (per her part in the script) over charred human remains. Needless to say, once the police and media attention ended, Lazlo's Factory members were somewhat scarred...

Director Jennifer Ambrosino has her pop stars striking distinctive poses. We have the hate filled, yet charismatic star, who wants constant attention; the apathetic sophisticate, filled with ennui, who wants his next drug fix; the innocent, child-like, gay man who wants to dance; and the transplanted country girl, looking for love, who wants to be in the show. Ambrosino's production moves at a steady, quick pace, seldom lagging, and at times displaying sick, comedic brilliance.

Chief Ike's Mambo Room, Cherry Red's venue for Cinema Verité, is a bar turned stage. The small performance space is easily seen from throughout the first floor. And with lines like, "No one has a drug problem if they're rich and have enough drugs." Chief Ike's offers great atmosphere. Into this space the design team has riden with Kim Deane's set harking back to a silver "What's My Line?"-style celebrity panel. Rhonda Key's costumes are appropriately Sixties zany. Fabula wears a French sailor suit, Baby Aubrey wears an ascot and jacket. Baby Maybelline has blue eye shadow and buffont hair, while Lazlo is dressed in black silk with a scarf and beret. Lucas Zarwell's sound design offers a Sixties' innocence that highlights the general unawareness of Lazlo's Starbabies. And very subtly he hits the comedic high note with Come On Baby Light My Fire playing during the laugh-riot re-enactment of Amore's incineration.

Each of the cast does an excellent job. Kate Debelack is especially infectious as Baby Maybelline delivering her lines with wonderful timing. John Horn's Baby Aubrey extemporaneous dance is hilarious. Brent Lowder's dead panned Fabula Rasa is right on target in his drug-induced demeanor. And Marcus Lawrence may have the hardest time, since Lazlo is almost one-dimensional in his nasty, hate-filled attitude. By having him introduce the panel to the audience and then moving him backstage to become a faceless voice making demands from the dark, Ambrosino could add a new dimension to the script.

The second half of the performance is a revolving series of independent film shorts and Cherry Red is offering a new group of films each night during the run. There were six the evening I saw the show and five of them were quite funny.

For an evening out with friends Cinema Verité offers dark humor and great fun. And when it's over, you are already at a bar and able to laugh about the show over drinks.

Cinema Verité
by Wendy MacLeod
Directed by Jennifer Ambrosino
with Kate Debelack, Marcus Lawrence, John Horn, Brent Lowder
Set Design: Kim Deane
Lighting Design: Jason Milner
Costume Design: Rhonda Key
Sound Design: Lucas Zarwell
Choreographer: Melissa-Leigh Douglass
Running Time: Act One is 40 minutes, Act Two varies each evening, there is 1 intermission
A production of Cherry Red Productions
Chief Ike's Mambo Room, 1725 Columbia Road, Washington
Telephone: 202-298-9077
FRI - SUN @8; $15
Opening 04/02/04, closing 05/09/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 04/03/04 performance
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