The Zoo District continues its passionate pursuit of history and cerebral complexity with this tribute to surrealism and the importance of following one's own dream. Viewers familiar with novelist Mikhail Bulgakov's text of The Master and Margarita were especially impressed with the ZD adaptation's brilliant costuming and splendidly surreal dream sequences, here offered expression by playwright Ricardo Zeger's imaginative journey through surrealism and Salvador Dali's psyche.
The dream in this production belongs to Eugene (an earnest but un-nuanced Jon Kellam), a Hollywood Everyman insomniac playwright who dreams his perfect play but forgets it, then pursues it through a sexualized phantasmagoria at once Daliesque and Alice-in-Wonderland-ish, populated (among 41 characters, 16 actors) with such peers as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Luis Buñuel having joyous intercourse with a Cabbage, Tomato, and Carrot and, with greater or less success, one another. Eugene's fate is almost to realize himself—shades of Borges—a character in Dali's dream.
Director Antony Sandoval is faithful to the mood and feel of Dali's stark, meticulously crafted visions, vividly enhanced by Kara Feely's varied and vibrant costume design—from Minotaur to totemic birds to an embryonic human with a warped wheel for feet. But Dali's notoriously detailed clarity is often antithetical to dreaming, and Sandoval would have done better to improvise. The minimalist plot occasionally takes its toll on the cast who must inhabit dream flotsam and jetsam without clear motivation, but generally fare well. Loren Rubin is an amusing fascist Freud who forces his ideas on others like a crucifixion and whose guttural mispronunciations ("At what!") make for obscenity. Patrick Towne (as Dali's father) is a convincing, hectoring malignancy who prefers his dead infant son (an onion) to the living Salvador; Ben Simonetti (Young Salvador) and Elizabeth Dement (Dali's sister Ana Maria) burn a frozen moment of concealed, unfulfilled lust; Joe Fria is comically brilliant as both a corseted matron and an obsessed Luis Bunuel; and Mami Arizono is perfectly unreal as both a defeated violinist and a demented, blonde-wigged Hitler, breasts adorned with swastikas.
Jef Bek's tidy musical score only occasionally captures the terror and disorientation of a dream state, and needs smoother interplay with Eric Snodgrass' too conventional lighting: stock strobe and disco-ball effects, and all monochromatic except for one scene in roseate tones that effectively pulls forth feelings. Best is a tiny, puppet-sized shadow theatre, the subdued display of which begins to loose the imagination instead of imposing upon and controlling it.
Despite its brio, this brave production remains obscure, demands too much knowlege of its audience, and could profit from the proper measure of pandering to popular tastes. While greatly admiring this dream, I was not unhappy to have it end.
"Pathe X," presented by Zoo District Theatre at the Lillian Theater, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Sept. 22-Nov. 4. $17. (323) 769-5674.