Son of Semele has consistently produced spectacular productions with scant resources in their awkward garage-like space nestled between lower Silver Lake and Historic Filipino Town. Forever fearless when it comes to bringing challenging work to a town where theatre is often relegated to an ugly step-sister at the ball, their U.S. premiere of Martin Crimp’s The City secures Son of Semele’s reputation for producing impressive productions of envelope-pushing plays.
The City, which opened this week, might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a world where characters are in love with their own endless riffs, alienation borders on dystopia, and situations are designed to be misleading; characters barely navigate a world in which the floor is constantly being pulled out from under them. Crimp’s very British and post-modern play never lands anywhere, but seems to intentionally float in an elliptical pattern. Pinter on acid. This is a highly recommended production, but go to The City looking for a well-made play, and you will be deeply disappointed.
What you’ll find at Son of Semele, however, is an extremely well-acted production of a gorgeously designed world with a confident, passionate director at the helm.
Special kudos to Dialect Coach Jean Gilpin, who has guided the top-notch acting ensemble to impeccably consistent British accents. Sarah Rosenberg plays a translator named Clair with touching insecurity; Clair’s inability to know whether she is smiling or not is handled with such disturbing grace by Rosenberg that she grounds herself in both a dissociated terror and an unexpected poignancy. Early on in the play, Dan Via brings a well-meaning yet insipid energy to Chris, Clair’s work-challenged husband, but as Chris’ life unravels, Via elegantly uncovers the rage that was bubbling underneath. Jenny, a nurse whose husband is off involved with some enigmatic war, seems the strongest of the characters, until several revelations occur; as played by Melina Bielefelt, Jenny’s strength is seen more as a defense mechanism to contain her fears. Rounding out the cast is Elise Ramacciotti who offers lovely touches of both humor and anger as Girl, making this character much more than a nameless theatrical device.
The design team further transforms the production. Nick Benacerraf’s scenic design is unassuming yet enhances the play’s revelations beautifully; he utilizes the space with uncomfortable angles of lateral curtained-strips which are shed to reveal the world of the play as it proceeds, burrowing deeper into the literal space as a mole might dig for survival (my only quibble is that the yanked curtain strips are not discarded in an effectively theatrical manner). Jeremy Pivnick’s lights and Gwyneth Conway Bennison’s costumes inform the world without drawing attention to themselves. John Zalewski’s subliminal sound design offers a brilliant undercurrent to the production; from the top, Zalewski aurally transforms the show with a perfect score that has you leaving the theater as though you traveled to a dreamscape for ninety minutes.
None of this fine work could have occurred without the deft touch of director Matthew McCray, who wraps the challenges of an enigmatic play in an organic container. Crimp reveals his world mostly through language—difficult, challenging, long speeches—but McCray orchestrates the words as if he is conducting themes and variations; this isn’t just a piece of theatre, it’s a symphony personified. The effective result is extremely disquieting, which seems to be exactly what Martin Crimp intended with his creation of the bizarre, disintegrating universe in The City.
photos by Matthew McCray
Son of Semele Ensemble in Los Angeles
scheduled to end on September 23, 2012 EXTENDED through September 30, 2012
for tickets, visit https://sonofsemele.secure.force.com/ticket