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|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana J. Monji
When the lights first hit center stage, a single man rises from among 20 seated audience members. If you're one of those in the preferred seats, sitting on one of the purple cushions on the stage, the perspective makes him seem taller than a normal human. Andrea Housh's lighting design strikes him with a halo of light that makes him glow. After a moment or so, you realize the man, Tom Fitzpatrick, with the stern air and crisp diction of a yesteryear schoolmaster, is supposed to be God.
So begins Brian Kulick's The Mysteries. It's a collection of educational cycle plays in the first act and modern plays inspired by this type of play and biblical stories in the second act.
Kulick allows the audience two choices. Seated center stage, you are surrounded by the action. Downstage, to the left and right and to the back are different stages. Nine audience members each may sit on the right or the left, looking down on the action while others may take the more traditional audience seating. Yet, from the perspective of center stage, you have the more traditional perspective of each of the four stages, The actors walk through and sit amongst the center stage seated audience members so don't move the cushions either.
Kulick's God and his angels (members of the company who all reappear in different roles) are dressed in neutral colored trousers, long sleeved shirts and long heavy coats. The balding Fitzpatrick has white hair and a trim beard and moustache. His penetrating gaze would make anyone admit his or her sins. His commanding presence and the biblical nature of the stories mean this is an evening of fire-and-brimstone preaching. After all, in order to educate the illiterate masses, you had to keep them entertained, although I doubt that the 14th century York Cycle version of Adam and Eve had full frontal nudity in the original performances. Those are some of the perks of living in the modern age.
Alessandro Mastrobuono's Adam is an obedient, rather dim and almost humorless man who keeps Erin Jellison's more flirtatious and playful Eve at arm's length. You get the feeling that without eating from the tree of knowledge, there would have been no human procreation going on in Eden.
Gary Kelley's Satan is an angel driven by jealousy. Believing that God prefers these two entities created from clay, he conspires to bring them down. If this sounds too serious and melodramatic, Kulick has a few tricks up angel Gabriel's sleeves. Angela Berliner's Gabriel is intensely earnest, but every time she moves her arms, feathers fly out and float through the air, lightening the tone.
From the 12th-14th century Townley cycle, Cain and Abel, takes place on the furthest to the back, a red background with small shelves holding black crows and in the foreground a small barrier made of chicken wire holding in brown dried leaves. Berliner is an earnest Abel who is horrified by his brother Cain's (Ken Elliot) distain and arrogance toward God.
Befor Isaac's (Robert Dorfman) story of Abraham's sacrifice, also from the Townley cycle, there's the comical version of the Townely Cycle's Noah's Flood. Brent Hinkley's Noah is a humble soul and hen-pecked husband. His wife (Patti Tippo) seems modeled on Rosie the Riveter with a voice that could drill through steel. Caught unawares with this uncommon burden, Noah tries hard. If he has any doubts, he keeps them to himself. The humor isn't only found in the comical knitting of Hinkley's eyebrows and the contortions of his elastic face as he ponders each new predicament, but also in the staging. The ark is a brightly colored inflatable raft. Noah and his wife get dressed in yellow raincoats and other protective wear as their fellow actors periodically douse them with pails of water. The audience members seated on that side also get involved in the low-tech hydrolics.
Act I, ends with the 12th century Chester Cycle's Three Magi. Tippo, with a milder and softer aspect, is Mary. Taking the stage where earlier Adam and Eve had damned themselves, she accepts the offerings of the three Wise Men (Kelley, Elliot, Mastrobuono).
Act II opens with Borislav Pekic's Miracle of Bethney. In this hilarious re-enactmentof the Raising of Lazarus, the whole proceedings are imagined as a medieval spectacle with the gravedigger (Kelley) taking money from the eager spectators for admission, chairs and refreshment. The actual miracle is off-stage, portrayed through the exclamations of the pushing, shoving crowd members.
This seamlessly transitions to Dario Fo's Raising of Lazarus where the local priests (Mastrobuono and Hinkley) find this miracle so troublesome that they require that Lazarus (Fitzpatrick) be put to death. Poor Lazarus is driven to despair by having to die, be reborn and die again until he plans to circumvent the whole cycle with the help of his faithful servant (Robinson).
Perhaps the most troubling segment is Mikhail Bulgakov's Pontius Pilot. Robert Dorman's Pontius is a bureaucrat being crushed by the mental load of his position. Only partially dressed as he gets ready for his massage, he receives the prisoner, Jesus (Kelley). In the conversation that follows, Pontius almost pardons Jesus, but because Jesus sees God as the supreme authority over even the Roman emperors, Pontius, raging in anger, changes his mind. Some Christians might take exception to Bulgakov's script which has Jesus state he doesn't know who his parents are. Yet this is really a minor quibble.
Moving to the crucifixion, Kulick uses Dario Fo's Fool Beneath the Cross. Here although a fool (Hinkley) contrives to set Jesus free and foresees all the awful things that will be done in the name of Christianity, Jesus (Kelley) is willing to make the sacrifice if only one soul can be saved as a result.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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