This production is not for everyone, but neither is "Rock of Ages." Tim Crouch's theatrical piece is intriguing, provoking, invigorating, and a little annoying. It may shock some, it may completely flummox others. It is different. And it is a must-see for those who make theater, study it, or want to experience it fully. If you plan to go but want to see it with totally fresh eyes, read no further.
The staging is transverse—in this case the two halves very close to each other. Crouch and his three actors sit amid us. But we don't know that at first. After the standard recorded preshow announcement, we wait for something to happen. We chat nervously; we raise our eyebrows and sigh at each other. After five minutes, a perky lad with a bad haircut and loud clothing—a comment on Americans or on theater audiences the world over?—introduces himself as Chris (Chris Goode), shaking hands with a few around him. He pipes down. Music plays. The lights change. A man "walks out" of the theater in probable discomfort. The lighting on us changes from house lights to stage lighting.
The Author (Crouch) speaks next, then two actors from one of his recent productions: a fresh new drama-school grad (Esther Smith) and a stage veteran (Vic Llewellyn). We and Chris listen to actorly chat and startling confessions. And as Chris takes it in and then loses his concentration, we remain reprimanded and transfixed.
Now, no one in the audience answers Hamlet when he ponders, "To be, or not to be." What is it about this piece that makes the audience feel so free to reply when the characters ask a question aloud? It could be the warm, confiding tones that the four actors use. It could be the unfamiliarity of the experience. Or it could have been just this particular crowd.
Co-directors Karl James and Andy Smith build moods from tensely jovial to brutally reflective. Delivery style is closer to storytelling than dramatic. Yes, this work is about global violence and intimate violence, about our tolerance for observing it and our inability to make the buck stop with us. But it's most pointedly about theater and about everyone's part in the process.
Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.
Feb. 17–27. Variable schedule.