Thursday, December 12, 2013

Astroglyde 2013 (review)

Spoilers ahoy!
Zombie Joe's Underground Theater's latest, but very short-run, offering is their annual Astroglyde evening. For those unfamiliar with the series, this consists of monologues written by the actors--usually (as in this case) some new-comers as well as faces seen before at ZJU. Each emerges as a deeply personal glimpse at someone's life, the whole scale of it. The theatrical equivalent of a haiku.

Remember My Name performed by Ann Hurd easily ranks as the funniest piece of the night. Giving the details why would be a real pity but let us say it has to do with sex. And Star Wars. 'Nuff said. The narrator simply explains to someone what happened. Like many funny tales, it contains all the elements of tragedy. Yet we laugh. A lot. And while the costume helps, pink tights and a tutu do not a full ten minutes of giggles and sympathies make. Not now, nor ever. On a stage the size of a coffee table we see exactly what went wrong, at least from one person's point of view. When you really think about it, one feels this person's life went off the rails long before walking down the aisle.

Morning Jo by Courtney Bandeko proves more...ambiguous. Because despite our narrator says, she doesn't reveal much detail about her past nor hints about what the future might hold. Yet we do get a sense of what this person's present tends to be, with an ever-strengthening suggestion that ultimately is more important. Not in a New Age kind of way, but as a template by which she's going to face every day remaining. It seems sweet. Friendly. Nice. But one wonders if anything other than searing tragedy can await her in the end? Unless some Luck Angel literally takes her under wing?

Whistling For Goats, despite its title, seems almost mundane by comparison. But also, closer to home for exactly that reason. Olga O'Farrell plays a woman very uncomfortable in an subpar evening gown about to compete in a whistling competition. The reasons she's wearing the gown, getting ready to whistle classical music for ten minutes, and how goats figure into all this emerge over the course
of her nervous monologue. Like what she did to end up in this women's prison.
Again, given how short the piece is we're left most often wondering about the unchronicled details. Her exact relationship with her cellmate for example.Or whether she wins!

The aptly named Rock Bottom by Caitlin Carleton captures a moment when someone ends up caught and tries to justify themselves. Bit of a tour-de-force, actually, as she recounts events both funny and skin-crawling. But what makes the whole thing more funny is her reaction to her own words. This is no planned speech on her character's part, but what comes out of her mouth under the circumstances.

The Monster in Me on the other hand, performed by Chelsea Rose, creeped me out the most--in part because
I'm not sure exactly what is happening. She seems prisoner, and the identity (or presence) of her jailer remains ambiguous. Is she playing two characters, or is she practicing for when this psychopath comes back to do God-knows-what? Or is she herself her tormentor, a case of fissioned
personality? Worse, is it some combination of all of the above? I don't know. For that I'm almost grateful, but her eyes very nearly gave me nightmares.

Interestingly, Nightmare by Frannie Morrison was next. And that is precisely what it seems to be--a straightforward experience of a personal terror wrapped in the narrative form of a dream. So simple, so easy to get wrong by not committing to the full truth of your character's personal terror. Not a problem here. I was left feeling maybe, just maybe I was glimpsing a few moments of a soul trapped in hell.

15 by Jahel Corban Caldera is unique in this  year's presentation. He's the only male presenter this year. Make of
that what you will. He also wears the least clothes. Fortunately he has the body for it, and it make sense he should be almost naked since that essentially is what his character becomes. Emotionally naked. Realizing some hint in his stream of consciousness ramble of why precisely he's done what he has to all fifteen of those people.

Pitch by Cimcie Nichols on the other hand is the only performer who doesn't seem to be playing a human being at all. Rather she's an avatar, an icon, an incarnation as much as Uncle Sam. And she's trying to sell you (or anyone) something (herself) of great power. What? Suffice to say her costume is a brilliant little visual pun, and makes for a kind of almost SNL-esque humor.

Tsunami is done by Ellen Burr, and again breaks the mold of what one expects by this time. Imagine if you will a woman at the beach who experiences (as the title suggests) a tsunami. What would she think? What would she feel or notice? Not in terms of her life flashing before her eyes, nor any imminent ghost-like regrets, but the fear and pain and then the eerily beautiful details. More than any other as well, this piece is physical,
with the actress showing us as she reacts to the huge, unforgiving wave.

Finally Not Your Style by Anne Westcott builds around an idea I suspect doesn't really exist--but I'm not at all convinced happen. It focuses on that most simple, challenging and potentially most heart-wrenching idea of a grotesque metaphor for ourselves. Who of us has not longed to find someone just right? And felt nothing but impatience at a world that doesn't fulfill that aching desire A.S.A.P.! Or what we think of as possible, anyway. So we try to become someone new, something new. Which can be growth, after all, but can also mean turning yourself into a preztel about as natural as a moebius strip. And in the moment of struggle, of disappointment and focus, might not we have an epiphany?
Astroglyde 2013 I'm sorry to say has only two more performances--at 8:30pm Fridays December 13 and 20. Given the SRO status of opening night, I recommend folks hurry. Performances are at Zombie Joe's 4850 Lankershim (across the street from KFC). You can order tickets at (818) 202-4120

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