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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Shag With a Twist

By Jana J. Monji
Currently playing at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Josh Agle and Cynthia Bradley's Shag With a Twist is not a musical or a play, but a story told mostly through dance, a slight, amusingly whimsical murder mystery big on style and flavored by Shag aesthetics.

What is shag? To some, it's is a type of carpet, to others it's slang for sexual intercourse. According to Austin Powers' groovy world, it's a hairstyle once worn by a more radical Jane Fonda. It's also a type of dance.

To a select group, Shag is a Southern California illustration artist named Josh Agle who, using the last two letters of his first name and the first two of his last name, has created paintings that affectionately parody a time when women wore pointy bras made under the lift and separate mantra, cinched their waists with girdles, sprayed their helmet hair to new heights and wore false eyelashes thicker than caterpillars. As for the men-- they wore medallions, colorful dinner jackets and drank martinis as a matter of course.

In Shag's paintings and prints, this is a world that includes some fanciful characters and an edge of danger. Wolves show up in men's clothing, minotaurs guard men embalmed in presentation capsules, monkeys with fezzes commit vices, various ghouls appear, skeletons play musical instruments and tiki gods are worshiped or seen crying. If you've been to Trader Vic's, Shag also celebrates the Polynesian tiki décor and the relaxed bar culture of such places and the bright tropical colors, even when the scene is transported to Europe.

Inspired by these Shag-scapes choreographer Bradley has has collaborated with Agle to bring this curious world to stage. The collaborative effort extends to Jetsetter Productions with the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and the San Pedro City Ballet. It's structured as a simple who-dunit story told through dance much like Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake and Cinderella but without the darker, snippy undertones of Bourne's works. Even the murder victim gets to dance away post-mortem blues when she arrives in Shag Heaven.

The murder scene is the house of the perfect couple, Othal (Katie Russell) and Eldon (Jamie Benson) as they host a swanky Tupperware party. Perky Othal is a former stewardess who hasn't given up the cheery helpfulness and the uniform. Eldon is a relatively conservative guy, at least as conservative as you can get in a plaid orange dinner jacket. Their flirty maid, 7 (Brianna Walker), is a young boy's wet dream in short skirt and with full, pouty lips. Their friends include debonair Foot (Ryan Jones), bespeckled Mercurochrome Head (Tina Graves), Siamese twins Shimmy and Shake (Jeneane and Shannon Grant) who are joined at the top of their tremendous beehive do, seductress Kitty (Katie Malia) who has black ears and a long black tail, Latin lover Dodge (Jordi Ribera), the bird-loving Slinky (Ashia Myers) and a Tupperware-loving hunchbacked coroner (Jesse Schoem).

When one of the guests falls victim to a corkscrew, Inspector Sergay (Shell Bauman) and his monkey, Mr. Cuddles (Raul Marchorro), arrive on the scene. Like any good murder mystery, the inspector follows the clues and is temporarily distracted by temptation, but in the Shag world the investigation includes an Operation board game like autopsy with evidence stored in Tupperware, a tiki séance, pop singers (Patrick Barnitt and Erin Stutland) cluing us in with innocuous lyrics (also by Bradley), exuberant go-go dancers (Shaun Curtin, Malie Fernandez, Ricky Godinez and Paige Makoski) and catnip.

While some of the soaring leaps, particularly by Ribera, certainly are balletic in nature, Bradley easily incorporates the classic dances of the groovy sixties for an expressive pantomime tale telling. The original music by Chris Lang and Cesar Benitez and the wildly witty costumes and hair (constructed and fitted on like soft helmets) by Joel Berlin and the energetic choreography create a wonderfully loopy world of a yesteryear that really never was that cool, colorful or crazily merging of the human and animal worlds. In the end, who really cares when you're having so much fun?

Shag with a Twist
Created by Josh Agle and Cynthia Bradley
Directed by Cynthia Bradley
Show Art by Josh Agle
Composers and Arrangers: Chris Lang and Cesar Benitez
Choreographer: Cynthia Bradley
Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Downtown. Tel: 888-515-SHAG (tickets) From 3/18/05 through 6/1105 Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. $25-$45 Reviewed by Jana J. Monji based on the 4/02/05 performance

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