Los Angeles Theater Review: VICUÑA (Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City)

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by Jason Rohrer on October 31, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


While getting fitted for a hundred-thousand dollar suit, a gross presidential-candidate billionaire argues politics with his immigrant tailor. Several monologues inform the bigot that he’s a bigot. The billionaire threatens the Muslim tailor and his family privately and then, a few minutes’ stage-time later, incites violence against them on TV. Two and a half hours after it began, the story ends with its spotlight on a flag. It would be just as nuanced and artful if it spotlighted instead an animatronic prolapsed rectum.


With Vicuña, Jon Robin Baitz has written a play dramatizing the Donald Trump candidacy, opening a week before the election. It’s a stunt of staggering opportunism, but novelty acts do not age well. Nothing cheap does. The play never gets more sophisticated than puns based on the name Seaman.


The long, limp offering is spotted with anecdotes you’ve already watched on YouTube. It will have no more reason to exist after next week, but for the moment, it’s one more Center Theatre Group production that reassures liberals that their prejudice is justifiable, that they can simultaneously take cheap shots and claim the high ground, that smug is the new smart.


As pandering as the grotesque fraud it lacks the guts to call by name, Vicuña is the kind of narrative you might type up after reading the morning paper and ranting self-righteously to whomever you share breakfast with. But if you’ve Rip Van Winkled through the last 18 months’ media frenzy, and if you prefer regurgitation to invention, and you want to spend $70 on old news, it’s available in Culver City.


Vicuña mixes vicious bias and abject cowardice (God forbid Trump should sue for libel). As satire it is not observant enough to say anything that isn’t obvious. As drama it lacks character, action, philosophy, taste, judgment and style. As a device to get asses into seats for a couple of weeks, Vicuña has a mild sort of genius, the sort Karl Rove would have if he were a playwright instead of a kingmaker.


But Rove would at least give his actors roles to play – look what he did for Newt Gingrich – whereas Baitz merely gives mannequins the same shots to pot, by turns, at the same sitting duck. Robert Egan directs them to sit in a line, most of the time. This is not good storytelling, but the play offers little story and no consequence at all. In order to direct something like this, you would have to pretend it is a play. It may be to Egan’s credit that he doesn’t bother.


Placating the complacent is an act of vice. Useful propaganda enrages, inspires, enthralls, frightens. Vicuña congratulates. With this work, Baitz acts as much the demagogue as Trump. He is as willing to win by cheating, as eager to grab low fruit. He is as inattentive to dramaturgy as Trump to diplomacy. Vicuña is the seventh Baitz play staged by CTG, a company practiced at the politesse of calling a spade a gardening tool while using it to hit the audience over the head.

samantha-sloyan-and-harry-groener-in-vicuna-photo-by-craig-schwartzphotos by Craig Schwartz

Center Theatre Group
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washinton Blvd in Culver City
ends on November 20, 2016
for tickets, call 213.628.2772 or visit CTG

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