Theater Reviews: Death of the Author, Dorian’s Decent, Gruesome Playground Injuries

Death of the Author
Geffen Playhouse | Through June 29

This world premiere play by prolific scribe Steven Drukman offers a rich brew, blending humor in academia with a sly battle of wits, spiced up with homoerotic undertones. Ace director Bart DeLorenzo and a crackerjack cast parlay this taut 90-minute dramedy into a sophisticated and enthralling experience.

One needn’t be intimately familiar with Roland Barthes’ classic essay “Death of the Author” to tune into this clever story of Bradley (the terrific Austin Butler), a cocky rich kid at an unspecified university who encounters accusations that he plagiarized chunks of Bartes’ heady tome and other works within his final paper. The accuser is passive-aggressive young adjunct professor Jeff (a smart and captivating David Clayton Rogers). Soon entering the fray is the acting head of the English department, impish J. Trumbull Sykes (sublimely funny veteran actor Orson Bean). The confrontations take near-Machiavellian twists, complicated by the involvement of Bradley’s estranged girl friend Sarah (the excellent Lyndon Smith). All in all, Death of the Author is a delectable treat. —Les Spindle

Dorian’s Descent
MET Theatre | Through July 20

A commendable effort with some good vocal performances does not a memorable night at the theater make. This is the problem with Doma Theatre’s original musical Dorian’s Descent, which gives the classic tale of The Portrait of Dorian Gray the Jekyll and Hyde musical treatment. The problems in this overlong production begin with an unclear time period (is it the ‘80s, ‘90s or a dystopian future?), a new character who betrays the psychological nature of Oscar Wilde’s original story and an unfortunate B-movie flair that results. The music and lyrics by Chris Raymond and Marco Gomez have potential, but every song goes on a few verses too long. The plus is that the show’s main vocalists have stellar voices.  The acting, however, is spotty. This might be an issue of Marco Gomez’s direction; he doesn’t properly utilize his actors, who end up pacing back and forth. Characters on an upper platform are constantly blocked by the set design, and scenes involving multiple cast members are messy. Ultimately, there is an urgency and passion missing from the show. With some generous editing, more confident direction and a streamlined book, there may be a good show in here. There’s something appealing about the music even if I didn’t walk out humming any of the songs, though at the end of the day, this work is a descent not worth surrendering to. —Kevin P. Taft


Gruesome Playground Injuries
Rogue Machine | Through June 29

Though physical injuries repeatedly occur in Rajiv Joseph’s two-person drama, the most profound suffering depicted is psychological. In its L.A. premiere rendition, the 85-minute work is thoughtful and subtly haunting. The minimal narrative evolves in a series of medical facilities, juxtaposed over a 30-year period, as two individuals keep reuniting under unexpected circumstances. It begins as 8-year-old daredevil Doug (Brad Fleischer) has foolishly ridden his bicycle off a school roof and seeks comfort from young Kayleen (Jules Willcox), which leads to sexual undercurrents. The play examines the ways in which humans harm themselves—and others—while interacting throughout life. It’s likely too abstract to appeal to all viewers, and it’s not a triumph on the order of Joseph’s 2009 Pulitzer-winning Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, yet Rogue Machine’s production is elevated by the superb efforts of the actors, director Larissa Kokernot and the design team. —L.S.

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