Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sculptress of Angel X (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

An odd dichotomy kept rising to mind while watching Sculptress of Angel X at Zombie Joe's in NoHo.

I kept thinking about the difference between voice and movement. The play itself tells of a harrowing personal odyssey in the life of artist Wyler Benoit (Melita Camilo). The title character, she appears the very incarnation of a fallen soul when we meet her. Eventually, in the wake of meeting someone who recognizes her, she falls into a drunken sleep. Then we see her life until then.

To put it mildly, a harrowing tale.

But one with a surprising amount of love in it. Her mother, wretched in her drug addiction, still adored Wyler. Her death beside the little girl might have been the most searing of her life--which from what we see is saying something. Yet in her starving artist uncle's home she finds comfort, affection, safety and love again. She and Lazslo (Kirby Anderson) become a very real couple, hand in hand against the vagaries of life. But alas, nothing ever stands still. She becomes successful, famous, rich. He remains obscure. Wyler allows it all to go to her head, some. Lazslo allows his envy to eat him away.

Were that the sum of the story, I wouldn't recommend it particularly. But other elements filter in, sometimes in terms of plot but also with the performances. Gotta say the entire cast grabbed my attention and held it. This play explores extremes, the heights as well as the depths, leaving us certain the journey is far from over.

Clearly the star is the lead, Melita Camilo whom I myself have never seen before. Hope to see her again! This play, with its often grim and sometimes fantastical subject matter, requires an actress who fascinates. Ms Camilo does that! Let us be utterly fair and note her lines sometimes don't work. At least a couple of times she's called upon to say something quite erudite. Each time the words just didn't sound real. Which brings up the dichotomy--that while sometimes her words felt fake, her movements and gestures and looks never failed to attract the eye. Frankly a few members of the cast had a bit of trouble not ending up upstaged her eyes. That kind of personal charisma shows great potential! But she does need to work on her voice, to expand its range. Some (many in fact) of her lines were just fine. Yet outside a certain type of speech, a certain narrow sort of vocabulary and attitude, what she said didn't fit.

Photo: Vanessa Cate
The second lead, Kirby Anderson (and btw, if you're reading this Mr. Anderson--GET A WEBSITE) has a bit less raw charisma. A bit.  Different flavor too. His comes across as quiet, firm, and totally present at all time. Cannot tell  you how wonderful I find it to watch actors who manage to simply be there, to listen and live "in the moment." Unlike Mr. Camilo, he demonstrated a very good range and control when it came to his speaking. And like her, he showed an arc for poor Lazslo with remarkably little time in which to accomplish that. For example, when we meet him for the first time, he's painting away. Over in the corner is his niece (age uncertain, my guess is around twelve or thirteen) Wyler. Since we don't know him at this point, but have seen Wyler amidst some pretty loathsome dregs of humanity, our radar for some is on full alert. He talks to her, rather like an adult in some ways, puts his arm around her. Yet we realize this is not some pedophile, but rather a good if bohemian fellow who'll do what he can.

Very soon after, we see them together, and some years have passed. Now, without doing anything overt or gross, we see the truth that makes him deeply uncomfortable--he finds his teenaged niece extremely attractive. Not simply because she's lovely to behold (she's very pretty) but her.

And one way he does this is his voice.

Photo: Vanessa Cate
Not to overwork the symbolism in this work, penned by none other than Zombie Joe himself, Lazslo paints Wyler as an angel. For this, and so much else, she loves him. She herself proves a sculptress (hence the title) and creates a life-size angel herself--the Angel X. When her life crashes and burns, the strange woman who claims to know her seems pretty clearly to be that very Angel. Somehow. Amidst the degradation, the heartache and pain--the artists in the play reach out to each other and themselves through their art. One stops listening. The other manages to hear again. So we end up with hope amidst the slime.

Now all of this requires a world where clay angels might walk. In other words, something not quite real, yet if anything more real than truth. In very many ways director Vanessa Cate created that, with the help of the entire cast. One in particular comes to mind--Tucker Matthews, who's appeared in several fine performances in this venue before. Here he very nearly steals it! Good thing the character is in only one scene! "Little Joe" is...I don't know what he is, actually. Certainly a denizen of dark subterranean part of our society where violence and perversion seethe and grow. A fun enough guy, though. Wyler likes him. Somebody who likes to wear pretty things, of course. A bra. Stockings. A fair amount of heavy makeup. Doesn't shave the full beard, though--thank God because that might have ruined the impact!

But the whole cast does that--creating this weird world of hyperreality, I halfway expected a superhero to show up. Not Superman or Batman maybe, but possibly Rorscharch from Watchmen. After all, we already met some supervillains in terms of style. It helped us believe an artist's creation might become flesh and blood in order to save her creator.

Sculptress of Angel X plays Friday nights at 11pm March 22 through May 10 at ZJU 4850 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA Call to make Reservations: (818) 202- 4120

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