Anyone who experiences this Richard Caliban work without background information will feel as lost as Peter Gibbs, the protagonist in this experimental and occasionally entertaining 90-minute dark comedy. The wreck referenced in the title is a theatrical collision between Henrik Ibsen's poem Peer Gynt, which he adapted for the stage in 1876, and Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Caliban's script is fused with Dara Weinberg's frantic direction and presented by a solid cast of actors and dancers. Although the concept is fascinating, the production's one-dimensionality becomes monotonous by the last third. Also, those unfamiliar with one or both of the plays Caliban eviscerates will not get any of the references to the original texts, or many of the jokes.
Caliban appears to be commenting on art by using two plays that were considered radical for their time. Instead of the narrating Stage Manager from Our Town, there's the Playwright (Grace Eboigbe), who sets in motion the story of Peter Gibbs (Mark McClain Wilson), whose name is an amalgam of Peer Gynt and George Gibbs from Our Town. Filled with ambition, Peter tells his mother, Aase (Gabby Sanalitro), that he's destined for greatness, though she thinks otherwise. Peter falls in love with the innocent Solveig (Rebecca Rhae Larsen), who is much like Emily of Our Town. But Peter leaves her for the sultry Knockout (Claudia Choi) and tries with little success to be a businessman, then a politician, and also an artist. The story is at times interrupted by the Playwright, and the ever-present dancing Button Moulders (Krista Conti and Dan Wingard), who represent the future and death.
Weinberg's direction is tight. She uses the entire theatre and has the actors connect visually with the audience. Her cast, with the exception of the Playwright, wears a collective and permanent sneer and delivers lines with oozing sarcasm, as if it's all a bad joke. For that reason it's Eboigbe as the Playwright who is the most interesting. Her natural style as the voice of reason makes it seem as if she were indeed the playwright. Her subtle comic delivery provides the biggest laughs. Of the remaining ensemble, Wilson as the angry Peter is most memorable, mostly because he is responsible for carrying virtually every scene. Also, Conti and Wingard are creepy and ably handle the violent dances, choreographed by the ensemble.
About two-thirds of the way through, the Playwright says the play's final segment is not as interesting, and she's correct. But up to that point, A Vast Wreck is a worthy attempt at fusing famous plays into a new one.
Presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Feb. 10-Mar. 18. (323) 856-8611.