Friday, November 22, 2019

Growing Gills to Drown in the Desert (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Okay think about this title for few moments.  Playwright Zeb Elliott certainly came up with something intriguing here.  Growing Gills to Drown in the Desert.  It feels funny, doesn't it?  In a dark kind of way?

Well, yeah.  That is pretty much precisely what we get.  Indeed, this play is a fine example of what I call "Theatre of Dreams" in that it makes more sense on a visceral level to interpret the play as a dream rather than a linear story.  Because while Growing Gills certainly has a beginning, a middle, followed by what certainly counts as an end, linear it ain't.

Instead what we get is quietly wild blend of Paradise Lost, with Waiting for Godot, and liberally sprinkled with Disney's The Little Mermaid.  Maybe a bit of Hans Christian Andersen's original version as well.

Hopefully, that description intrigues.  Because honestly I want a lot more people to see this lovely, touching, sometimes painful, ultimately moving piece of theatre.  The cast, not so incidentally, laughed and agreed with my description when I shared it with them.

We begin in a room.  Probably a basement.  And a well-dressed person arranging it 'just so' before seemingly creating or summoning a youing man.  The creator introduces himself as Deuce (Kristian Maxwell-McGeever), which is the kind of pun I myself tend to adore.  He wants to call the young man "Adam" but the has opinions of his own in a quiet innocent way, preferring Ira (Marc Leclerc).  Ira's imagination in effect summons/creates a girl, Libby (Celine Rosalie Zoppe).  Since Deuce never really wants her, he has no name planned. If he had, presumably it would have been "Eve."  But he didn't.  And doesn't.

As dream symbolism goes, this feel fairly straightforward, but instead of acting out some ritualistic series of events what follows feels very natural, if bizarre.  Libby grabs chalk and begins drawing on the walls.  Deuce tries to get Ira to focus only upon him, ultimately failing because while Ira loves Deuce, Libby is so much more interesting.  So they chat, watch some t.v. together (and get royally freaked when the future selves kinda/sorta give them all sorts of rubbish advice they don't understand), followed by Deuce getting all upset with some violence that follows, then Deuce gets surprised when (yet again) things don't happen how he wanted.

But again, it remains a dream.  Like life in some ways, not least all are aware they will die.  After all, they say, how long is a play these days?  Ninety minutes?  Yeah, that sounds right.  So their whole world will end, and them with it, when the play ends.

Metaphors just piling up here.  Or maybe flooding the space would be a better way to describe it.

Can you tell I really liked this show?  And what makes it work is how seriously (and not-so-seriously) the whole cast approaches the dream-like cloud cuckoo-land of this play with Max Marsh's direction.  All three touched my heart, made me angry (or at least annoyed), inspired frustration and/or dread.  I liked the symbols and metaphors, the semi-obscure puns and odd story twists, but what made me really enthusiastic remained the characters.

Growing Gills to Drown in the Desert is the first production in the Loft Ensemble's new digs in NoHo.  It plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sundays at 7pm at the upstairs theatre of new home of the Loft Ensemble, 11031 Camarillo Street (west off Lankershim), Los Angeles, California 91602.

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