A Fabulous Monsters production is a work in progress. The company keeps at it until it gets it right, then keeps at it some more. Like the battle of good and evil raging in this newly expanded, refined, relocated replay of Hindu poet Valmiki's 2,000-year-old drama the struggle continues. Here's the good news: In this clash between noble god Vishnu and lord of demons Ravana, the good guys win. Bad news: Evil never gives up.
Fab Monsters' originator/mentor/ mover and shaker Robert Prior will tackle anything. He's a boldly creative artist and an auteur if ever there was one. He adapted, wrote, and with the aid of master choreographer Stephen Hues directs this staging of the ancient Vedic story—which premiered last year at Highways. He created the set and dazzling costumes, masks, puppets, and accessories. He maintains what obviously is the enthusiastic ensemble unity that animates this group. Inspiration for the piece came on a visit to Bali, where almost every night 100 men performed a "monkey chant" and watched the ancient drama played out within their circle. The Ramayama is always being performed somewhere in the world.
The title is a capsule comment on the content. Western 21st century technology joins hands and hearts with ancient Eastern myth. The company has tweaked last year's Highways staging. It now boasts new lighting, new design, new choreography, 50 new costumes. Original music by RaRa Avis and Andrew Yeater is 50 percent new. And the production now includes computer-controlled intelligent lighting—the new smart lights. Robert Wilson had 40 of them for his Woyzeck at UCLA; this production boasts four.
In a cast of 18 the versatile performers take on innumerable roles of gods, demons, acrobats, puppeteers, a big monkey army. It's pure theatre magic when we see Aurelian Roulin metamorphose into a magnificent golden deer. Our hero and heroine, Vishnu/Rama (Richard Welmers) and Lakshmi/Sita his goddess bride (Anahata), in gorgeous costumes and makeup are incarnate deities. Anahata, a professional exotic dancer, lives up to her billing as an "electro-exotic" terpsichorean. Will Watkins glitters fearsomely and splendidly as terrible Ravana. Dancers, warriors, divinities, evildoers too many to mention provide a carnival of dance and battle, even a session with flaming torches. One must admire the spirit, skill, and courage of these actors. Courage is required—a person could get hurt. Playing Rama's stalwart brother Lakshman, plus others, handsome Carlos Madrid Mora injured his foot during a rip-roaring battle scene and hobbled manfully and painfully through the rest.
Prior and his Fabulous Monsters are a community treasure. A community that doesn't appreciate them doesn't deserve them.
"Ramayama 2K3," presented by Fabulous Monsters Performance Group at Gascon Center Theatre, Old Helms Bakery Building, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jan. 24-Mar. 2. $l5-25. (323) 857-7409.