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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Messalina
By Laura Hitchcock

Gordon Dahlquist's Messalina is not the first play in which the American Empire has been compared to the decadence and decline of the Roman Empire but his end-of-the-world dinner party, in the hands of director Bart de Lorenzo, is rife with zeitgeist. Pinteresque menace shades not only whatever is going on in the world depicted on a soundless TV set but shadows the obtuse indifference of the six characters who don't seem to care whether the natural disaster is in the next continent or the next county.

Host Gavin (Leo Marks) has brought together screen mogul Boris (Bruce McKenzie) and actress Fabrizia (Dorie Barton) to peddle his historic script. Those ancient Roman orgies, triumphs and disasters are exciting and can be manipulated every which way, as soullessly as the cast do each other. Messalina, a depraved teen-age Roman Empress with her head in the sand for any number of unthinkable reasons, gives the play its title.

Gavin found his mysterious girlfriend Sarah (Ames Ingham) living under the stairs. Boris shows up with Irene (Lauren Campedelli), a neurotic doctor he met on an airplane. Voluptuous Fabrizia has in tow tall, dark and handsome Jack (Rhys Coiro).

As the evening progresses, the bed, which is stage center, becomes the scene of erotic writhing (fully clothed), though everybody stays sedately with the person he/she came with. A fuse blows so realistically that the whole theatre is plunged into darkness. But it's part of the play and underscores the impression that disaster is on the move though this isn't actually spelled out. Two of the couples leave and Sarah, left alone with the sleeping Gavin, closes the show by burning pages of a manuscript whose words she reads like an incantation. It's a strong image of the death of intelligence and communication that foreshadows the end of everything.

The strong ensemble is anchored by Leo Marks' intellectual Gavin, whose head trip makes him as blind to reality as the glorious hedonism of Fabrizia, displayed with delicious abandon by Dorie Barton. Ames Ingham projects the enclosed mystery of Sarah. Rhys Coiro brings a menacing sensuality to Jack. Lauren Campedelli immerses Irene in wacky self-absorption and Bruce McKenzie is a high-rolling Hollywood executive on a smug and gleeful power trip.

Jason Adams' decadent old New York brownstone set establishes the tone by centering the huge double bed as its only furniture surrounded by little pyramids of books. Ann Closs-Farley's costumes are shrewdly topical, with such telling details as Manohlo Blahnik-type shoes. Rand Ryan created the ambitious lighting design.

Bart de Lorenzo's many-layered direction gives the play a turgid atmosphere of pitiful doom, both in the events and the people. These shallow characters are not people you'd want to live with or die with. They're warnings.

Playwright: Gordon Dahlquist
Director: Bart De Lorenzo
Cast: Leo Marks (Gavin), Ames Ingham (Sarah), Bruce McKenzie (Boris), Lauren Campedelli (Irene), Rhys Coiro (Jack), Dorie Barton (Fabrizia)_
Set Design: Jason Adams
Lighting Design: Rand Ryan
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Running Time: One hour 35 minutes with no intermission
Running Dates: October 5-November 16, 2003
Where: The Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles. Phone; (213) 381-7118
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.October 11.
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