Los Angeles Theater Review: AMERYKA (Critical Mass Performance Group at the Kirk Douglas in Culver City)

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by Tony Frankel on April 25, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


After a successful run in 2016, Ameryka has arrived for a short run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of CTG’s Block Party. It’s a testament to writer/director Nancy Keystone and her collaborative Critical Mass Performance Group that at 160 minutes (with intermission) their informative and spectacularly theatrical production never loses our interest, even as a few scenes drag or seem superfluous. The superbly constructed piece mingles fragments of history, covering the many uprisings of Poland and America — from war to social progress — and the knotty but inspiring relationship between the two countries.

The juxtaposition is fascinating enough, but the troupe involves us even more with characters whose journeys capture our hearts. These include a jazz musician (Ray Ford) who visits Poland in 1959; General Tadeusz Kościuszko (Jeff Lorch), a Polish hero during the American War of Independence; his aide, Agrippa Hull (Lorne Green), a free African-American patriot; and Lech Wałęsa (Curt Bonnem), Anna Walentynowicz (Valerie Spencer), and another Solidarity leader (Liza Seneca) during the Reagan era.

With mythological elements that suggest a non-chronological and time-jumping Kentucky Cycle, the staging is pure Story Theater, hearkening back to the joy of Viola Spolin, and the political theater of Piscator and Brecht (one actress addresses us directly, reminding us that she’s an actress with an accent). With Keystone’s minimal set design, Randall Robert Tico’s expressive sound, and Adam J. Frank’s inventively delineating lights, we are transported to a Polish film class that analyzes High Noon, the corridors of Capitol Hill, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (even the metaphorical use of real bricks doesn’t feel obvious).

As with classic agitprop theater, there’s nothing wrong with the good cop/bad cop role assignments here (guess how Reagan’s CIA director William J. Casey [Russell Edge] comes off), but at nearly three hours, the show — which could use some tightening — loses a bit of impact and tension; we need more examination of the characters’ complex moral ground — Jefferson’s explanation to Kościuszko for being a slaveholder does this beautifully. Still, with both satire and deadly seriousness, each player of the nine-member ensemble — which includes Nick Santoro and Richard Gallegos — deftly switches roles, accents, and Lena Sands’ quick-switch but accurate costumes as they negotiate the profound issues surrounding oppression and freedom. How glorious it is to ponder over 250 years of messy history in just a few entertaining hours.

photos by Lawrence K. Ho

Critical Mass Performance Group
part of Block Party presented by Center Theatre Group
Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washinton Blvd in Culver City
ends on April 29, 2018
for tickets, call 213.628.2772 or visit Critical Mass or CTG

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