Director James Kerwin updates Shakespeare's lyrical poem, about the romance between the goddess Venus and the mortal Adonis, to a high-tech present, and he reworks the story so that it's now an ill-starred love affair between a sultry teenage sexpot and an adolescent computer games-playing slacker geek. It may sound strange and irreverent, but the production is rich with provocative ideas and visual conceits—some of which work better than others.
Even during moments when the update conflicts with the text, the show possesses a youthful vitality and daring freshness that's refreshing and imaginative. Kerwin's production offers by the bushel the very energy and ingenuity entirely lacking in the comparatively fusty production of Romeo and Juliet currently playing at the Ahmanson. Part of this show's premise is the theory that video games are the frontier of a new mythology—a notion that's internally hard to accept but that nevertheless provides opportunities for a variety of intriguing conceptual ideas: Adonis is reworked into a teenage computer dweeb (Brian Stanton) who would rather fiddle with his Nintendo joystick than with the sexy and increasingly frustrated Venus (Megan Henning).
Venus' desperate attempts to woo the young man are narrated not only by a silver-tongued chorus (Dee Dee Hamilton) but also by a pair of characters from Adonis' favorite video game (Travis Schuldt as a real-life Adonis and Jennifer Slimko as a Xena-like realization of Venus). The climactic boar hunt, during which (in the original Greek myth) Adonis is killed, is rendered by "3D Model and Animation" artist Tom Knight in the form of a stunningly colorful high-tech video game—complete with monsters attacking video-game versions of Venus and Adonis—which is played out on a large screen over the stage.
Eventually we become aware that the brashness of the staging has all but overpowered the language of Shakespeare's text, which is sometimes garbled, with some lines delivered with little attention to meter and layered meaning. But the show also offers a number of compelling theatrical elements that demonstrate Kerwin's undeniable promise as a director.
And the central performances themselves are delightfully organic and passionate. With her petulant, capricious teenage Venus, Henning is the consummate embodiment of the arrogant command wielded by youthful beauty. Stanton's reserved, gangly, and immature Adonis is droll and touchingly childlike. And the cyberpunky final image, with Stanton's dead Adonis hanging crucified from a virtual-reality computer, is quite powerful. John Furgason's foldout set, which encompasses a gritty Matrix-like chamber for Adonis and a sexy love nest for Venus, is ingenious, as is James Roberts Fritz's rave-like lighting design.
"Venus and Adonis," presented by the Lone Star Ensemble at the 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thus.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Mar. 15-Apr. 22. $15. (323) 650-5111.