Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hyenas: An American Farce (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

ZJU's latest offering, Hyenas: An American Farce, at least remains typical in that theatre's efforts to present works that blow the mind.  You can call it Absurdist, Surrealist, whatever.  I myself use a more general term--Theatre of Dreams, based on the dreamlike logic of this world.

Hyenas, written by David Dickens and directed by Brandon Slezak, proves quite a bit more "linear" than many shows at ZJU.  But it certainly resembles nothing very naturalistic.  Rather we enter through some kind of modern American looking glass in which laughter is currency, laugh tracks a semi-metaphor for automation (or social media, or maybe the increasing isolation of humanity from itself), up is down, time is out of joint and violence weirdly just part of business.

Credit: ZJU
The whole thing  borders on the psychotic.  A factory that produces laughter, without actually anyone there laughing.  Yet also, somehow this factory literally keeps the workers within alive.  Thus keeping it "in business" justifies almost any act.  In theory.  Martin, our hero (of sorts) is the latest employee and never quite grasps how this weird world works, although he goes along more or less out of a combination of impulse and inertia.  Hit a woman in the face?  Okay!  Kill a man?  Well, if you insist.  Don't shoot him but use the gun as you would a hammer?  Oops.  Forgot to do that.  And so on.

The cast (they come across as quite talented, I should note) consisted of Paul Thorn Bacon, Megan Combes, David Dickens, James Ferrero, Jacqui Grilli, Jetta Juiansz, Liz Lamier, Ian Michaels, Alison Reubens and Alfredo Trueba.

Credit: ZJU
Does this sound entertaining?  It can be.  Certainly a good chunk of the show proved exactly that--entertaining.  A technical problem interfered (I cannot say "prevented") it becoming more.  The play proves so outre, so weird, the acting style itself needs something of that to make the whole thing work.  When cast members did that--poured lots of energy into specific choices, whether they seemed to makes sense or not--Hyenas became something real, something wonderfully disturbing.  But only about three or four cast members (out of ten) did this with total consistency.  Others played mannerisms, some of which were just fine.  Others more or less cruised on talent rather than focus and energy.

So--bit of a muddle.  Interesting, to be sure.  At best compelling in a real and very odd way.  At worst, just strange.  Most of it somewhere in between.

Hyenas: An American Farce plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm through February 25, 2017 at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim (just south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood, CA 91601.

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