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LA Theater Review

Gulliver's Travels

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It's easy to imagine that Jonathan Swift would enjoy the Actors' Gang adaptation of his four-part satirical 1726 novel, because it retains the novel's playful spirit as well as its political and religious underlying themes. This Gulliver's Travels is firing on all cylinders. Josh Zeller's sharp adaptation, the creative multimedia effects, and the fun costumes; P. Adam Walsh's snappy direction; and a remarkably versatile cast, headed by Keythe Farley, are ideal. This is a two-hour journey that departs quickly, rides wild waves, and docks before anyone loses interest.

All four of Swift's travels are strung together, beginning with the arrival of Gulliver (Farley) to Lilliput, with its tiny inhabitants, headed by the Emperor (Steven M. Porter). After helping the Lilliputians win a sea battle (the ships are fashioned from blown up rubber gloves), the little people turn on Gulliver because he puts out a fire by peeing on the flames -- and everyone near them. In Brobdingnag, a land of giants, Gulliver (now a wonderfully detailed puppet designed by John Burton) becomes a toy to the Queen (Vanessa Mizzone). His journey to the floating island of Laputa, where scientists spend decades coming up with useless inventions, is followed by a trip to an unknown land run by intelligent horses called Houyhnhnms.

Zeller retains the essential plot points, as well as Swift's bawdy humor, while tweaking the dialogue for modern audiences. Ara Dabandjian's ethereal music fits nicely with Shannon A. Kennedy's fanciful costumes, where found objects such as lampshades and plungers become hats. Numerous shadow-puppet sequences blend seamlessly into the live action, but the heart of the production is its cast. Farley's unerring sense of dignity, even when he's being wholly inappropriate, makes funnier the already funny moments. Mizzone and Porter, in a variety of roles, push the envelope of outrageousness. Mizzone shows off her physical-comedy skills as the Queen, trying to seduce the puppet version of Gulliver. Porter, as a rude clown named Quasar, is dripping with sarcasm and disgusted looks. The remaining performers, Chris Bell, Corey G. Lovett, Molly O'Neill, and Malcolm Foster Smith, are equally strong; it's hard to believe only seven people are performing.

This is a one-of-a-kind adaptation that will be difficult to duplicate, and it shouldn't be missed.

Presented by the Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation,

9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City.

Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Jul. 7-Oct. 27.

(310) 838-4264. www.theactorsgang.com.

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