Thursday, April 10, 2014

Manicomio (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

"Manicomio" is Spanish for "insane asylum." No one told me that before seeing the play of that title, the latest offering from Zombie Joe's in North Hollywood. Methinks folks were having a tiny bit of fun at my expense. In fact, it probably soured my mood ever so slightly towards the work. When a title is a word I don't understand (and my own vocabulary stands up pretty well, thank  you) experience tells me the work is all too often pretentious in some way.

Which made for a very pleasant surprise. Manicomio isn't really a script per se, but more like a piece of group performance art. The director Sebastian Munoz explained to me much of what was happening on stage came from ideas put forth by cast members. Unlike some (and here I get to be pretentious) it didn't surprise me that out of such a story emerged.

For make no mistake, this play does indeed have a story.

In essence the setting is a madhouse. Everyone we see, pretty much from the moment we walk into the space, is a lunatic. Someone who sees the world in a way extremely different from the way you and I (presumably) do. One person (Jackie Lastra) has an intense relationship with her doll. Another (Kevin Van Cott) seems to lack the ability to grasp speech.
Credit: Adam Neubauer

Now, the classic (or if you prefer cliche) reaction to insanity is fear. A withdrawal at full speed. Our culture permeates with the image of the dangerous madman. The Joker. Hannibal Lecter. Drusilla the Vampire. Ophelia. Alex in Fatal Attraction. The title character in Betty Blue. Not even particularly malevolent, but...perilous. More rare, but perhaps more telling, are positive portrayals of the mentally ill as perhaps knowing something we do not. Don Quixote makes for the most obvious example--the divine madman who knows what you do not, sees the possibilities others sadly need but cannot imagine. Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street. Renfield.

The denizens of Manicomio follow into the divine madmen category. Not that they necessarily know something you do not, but that they achieve something at which the "sane" all too often fail. Miserably. They come together. They unite.

Details aren't really the point. And I don't want to spoil the surprises in store for those interested in viewing the show. Let me instead simply point out the cast--including Jared Adams, Charlotte Bjornbak, Jahel Corban Caldera, Joachim De La Rua, Samm Hill, Tyler Koster, Leif La Duke, R. Benjamin Warren, Jessica Weiner, Ramona Creel, and Ann Wescott--off a kaleidoscope of fractured personalities and perception, often  hilarious and sometimes disturbing. Nearly always entertaining. Yet all understandable--even the segments not in English still come across, as do the ones without words at all. This whole piece is about thinking, and seeing, outside the box. Not necessarily discarding the box, nor never returning, or even disdaining the box in which we all keep stuff after all. But remembering the box is there to serve us, not for us to serve it. It is to be our tool, not our straightjacket.

Did I mention this is something of a musical?

Manicomio runs Fridays at 8:30pm until May 23, 2014 at ZJU Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim (north of Camarillo, across the street from KFC) North Hollywood Ca 91601. Tix are $15 each. You can make resevations by calling (818) 202-4120 or going online:

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