Ubu Roi scandalized French theatregoers as nothing had before, attacking European philosophies and all that theatrical literature held dear. Its premiere in 1896 at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre caused a near riot that forced the production to close the same night, but Alfred Jarry's groundbreaking play is still considered by scholars to be the precursor of the absurdist movement some 50 years after its debut.
Jarry's once shocking story is the perfect fodder for intrepid and brashly idealistic young artists such as recent Cal State Long Beach graduate Jeremy Aluma, who in his inaugural nonscholastic effort as producer-director has commandeered a talented troupe of CSULB theatre department performance majors to bring his delightfully skewed vision of the overlooked classic crashing into glorious new life. Beginning with an impressive and suitably decibel-challenged club mix, ranging from gypsy accordion music to rap and Kurt Cobain wailing "Rape Me," the play's segmented 19 short scenes provide a perfect opportunity for Aluma's nine decidedly game human chessboard pieces to alternately assume the roles of the monstrous Pa Ubu and the wife he repeatedly shtups with an enormous foam penis he proudly displays and strokes at every opportunity.
Performing on a basically blank stage dominated by the King's golden toilet-bowl throne, these spirited performers are clearly having the time of their lives, screaming and shouting an abundance of contemporary four-letter words while showing off their presumably recently acquired skills as performance artists. Not all of these newbies are ready to be here yet, but there are standouts, including the rubber-faced Lis Roche (as Ubu's nemesis Bougrelas) and Kevin Klein, a fearless guy who either has had a heap of dance training -- or should get some tout de suite, as he has considerable instincts for mime and movement. Of all these determined performers, the smallest guy casts the biggest shadow here -- Anthony Cretara "gets" it like no one else on this stage, exploding boldly and confidently into commedia dell'arte style with consummate skill and a wonderful sense of humor. There may be a few misses, but these are easily overpowered by the pluses, which, like Jarry's original work, portend remarkable things to come from these gifted young artists.
Presented by the Ubists at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex,
6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.
Fri.-Sat. 8 & 10 p.m. Jul. 13-Aug. 4.
(323) 960-4484. www.complexhollywood.com.