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Alma

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A long life, famous husbands, and an undeniable talent for living make the story of oft-married muse Alma Mahler-Werfel the sort that can never be pinned down. This production doesn't even try. It presents the tale in all the sprawling messiness of a life well-lived, the character of Alma portrayed by one mature actor (Flo Lawrence) and three younger ones (Ryan Templeton, Tiffany Elle, and Maria Vargo), all of whom go scampering about the vastness of downtown's baroque fantasy, the Los Angeles Theatre, emoting their hearts out. Insults are hurled and passions sparked, every emotion super-sized until the sonorous chords from the main theatre summon the audience to assemble as one. And we get a yummy dinner.

Georg Resetschnig's reconfiguration of the theatre is impressive, as are the props and costumes (Heike Vieweger and Beatrix Erber). The dinginess and dust make everything look quite lived-in, and the thousands of items scattered about stand up under close inspection. Niki Griedl's lighting tends toward the dim, yet Paulus Manker often directs his actors into dark corners, sometimes leaving audience members--who are following the actors around at will--better lit than the actors. Manker's overall vision, however, is remarkable, encompassing as it does multiple interior locations, an exterior train station set, and, I heard at dinner, a bus ride. The house acting style is decidedly florid, but this effectively maintains the necessary separation between actor and audience, a separation that, physically, can be almost nonexistent. Had I leaned in two inches closer, the pairing between Alma and the architect Gropius (Hans Hoffman) might well have become a menage a trois. The show is triply cinematic, employing as it does an old movie house, the audience instruction to think of itself as a camera, and product placement. "Oh, Swarovski!" squeal the three Almas as one, as they compare jewelry from the apparently quite generous show sponsor. As an approximation of life, the evening is without peer. It happens everywhere at once, you're constantly hoping someone can give you the key to make sense of it, and there's always that nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere, might be having a better time.

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