What sounds geographically impossible turns out to be mystically enrapturing. In other words, why quibble? Mary Peru returns from a long voyage in Africa, alighting for this evening in her sister's flat in London. Her sister? Well, let's just say she's not there. But Mary decides to "dramatize" her adventure aloud in her sister's absence. It's a conceit at first puzzling, but like so much in this Stephen Legawiec–penned monologue the puzzle is resolved by evening's end.
Program notes indicate the work was written for actor Marianna Harris. Chances are it is presented here in celebration of Black History Month. The confluence is happy. Harris' talents include an easy physicality and a range of accents that enable her to play an overweight Frenchman, a cheery truck driver, the pygmy—or Mbuti—hunters and their women, as well as the Oxford-educated black Englishwoman, Mary. And the celebration of black history is universal rather than distinctly American—the audience's voyage into a time and place far from the urban neighborhood of this theatre.
Ernest A. Figueroa directs with a sure hand, stitching the various locales into a seamless whole. Production designer Trefoni Michael Rizzi starts with the London art studio of Mary's sister; but with abstract columns that serve as London shadows and Congolese trees and a lighting design in which he paints the cyc in the heated colors of Africa, he lofts us along on the many thousand miles of Mary's travels. The stellar sound design of Martín Crillo includes a heavy rainstorm, forest murmurs, and an airplane flying overhead that momentarily had us believing it had taken off from the nearby Santa Monica Airport.
Apparently inspired by Colin M. Turnbull's The Forest People, Legawiec has created an intriguing mix of anthropology, geography, and spirituality. The script is not completely flawless: In particular Mary's syntax and vocabulary seem American rather than English. But, all told, going to see Peru in Africa is a blissfully easy, sweet trip.
"Peru in Africa," presented by Venice Theatre Works at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 6-29. $18. (310) 281-6299.