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iter/director Zombie Joe, known for his way-beyond-the-edge and far-over-the-top experimental theatre, dishes out a marvelous mélange of humor, pathos, and social commentary in his new play about an angelic sculptress who rises from the gutter to fame and back again. Young Wyler Benoit (Rainey K. Taylor), pronounced "ben-wa," pun evidently intended, is the troubled daughter of a dysfunctional family, bounced into the street when her mother (Maeve Yore) is kicked out of her house by her husband for being a crack-smoking prostitute. This doesn't stop the duo; they live on the streets until the mother's untimely demise sends Wyler to the home of an artist uncle (Jim Petersmith), who takes her under his wing and inspires her to become a famous artist. Wyler finds her true calling and true love with her uncle, and before long she lands on the cover of Time magazine for her brilliant sculptures. Her success only depresses her uncle, who has labored for years in obscurity, and he commits suicide. Wyler is quickly thrown back into depression and debauchery, only to resurrect herself one more time through her art. Though the plot sounds drenched in sentimental clichés, that is exactly what Joe is going for. He seizes this romantic plotline—familiar from literature beginning in the Middle Ages and proceeding through Theodore Dreiser right up to modern television movies—and shakes it within an inch of its life, employing outrageous humor, melodramatic effects, musical punctuation marks, and theatrical whimsy. He creates an almost epic effect with his many short scenes and delightful counterpoints, filling this short play with an evocative, often moving power. The structure of the play is especially effective, many short scenes jammed up against one another, each with musical interludes. The influence of other experimental theatre figures is evident here—most markedly the work of Richard Foreman of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in New York—in its use of short, punchy scenes and most especially the use of tableaux, which dates from not only Renaissance painting but also late 19th century parlor burlesque. Joe has developed a fine ensemble company of actors, many of whom appear here. Taylor is one of the regulars and delivers a fine, grounded performance. Jason Bold is fabulously funny as Benoit's autoerotic lover, and Janna Wimer, Amy Mucken, and Josh T. Ryan also are terrific in several hilarious scenes. The production is beyond sparse, with only a few props to grace the bare stage of the tiny theatre. However, within this cramped space, Joe creates theatre magic. While he is clearly only beginning to reach his stride as a writer and as a director, he has already made a distinctive mark on Los Angeles theatre. "Sculptress of Angel X," presented by and at Zombie Joe Underground Theatre Group, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8:30 p.m. Sep. 19-Oct. 11. $10. (818) 202-412

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