Sometimes an actor is onstage when the house opens. Sometimes they are hidden, sometimes they are right down front in plain view. In the Loft Ensemble’s production of Art is Useless When You’re Being Mauled by a Bear, a new play by Alisa Tangredi, a woman in dim light (Jennifer Christina Derosa on the evening I saw the show) is seated in a chair downstage when the house opens. She sits quite still in dim light. A set can be seen behind her. Fanciful letters read “Once Upon a Time” upstage right and “the End” upstage left. The house lights fade and two lovely young dancers (Ela Castillo and Anna-Katharina Benz) enter from the house and perform a thrillingly intimate pas de deux with great joy until one develops, in minute increments, an unhappy mien that turns angry. The dance crumbles, and as the dancers leave the stage they fling what seems to be a ream of paper sheets into air. The seated woman, Finn (Ms. Derosa), stirs. As the action proceeds, it is clear that we are not in Kansas anymore.
With a weary demeanor, Finn addresses the audience. She is clearly depressed, yet not without a certain amount of wry humorous affect, a spark of intellect, and a goodly amount of self-loathing. She is in emotional trouble. Another woman, Nid (Madylin Sweeten on the evening I saw the show ) dressed fetchingly in black, suddenly emerges from behind the chair. She is sassy and wry and hectors Finn with the truth. Okay! Now we are heading into a mental and emotional danger zone.
Another character, Kyt (Victoria Anne Greenwood on the evening I saw the show ), enters dressed in a bathrobe. She is tired and distant, yet obviously close to Finn. Who is she, a friend? A roommate? As the action proceeds, Finn starts to pick up the sheets of paper and files them in a box. It becomes clear she is getting ready to leave the house. But the two women have a project. They are rewriting the fairy tale of Snow-White and Rose-Red, which takes place in the upstage fairy tale locale. In this version, Snow-White marries the Bear (Benjamin Anderson) and it causes all kinds of interesting situations. The angry dwarf (Ignacio Navarro) is still there and so is the troll (Marc Leclerc, who also plays a dwarf). Eventually, Finn’s reality and the fairy tale reality cannot be contained and separate, hence the title.
Under the keen co-direction of JJ Mayes and Bree Pavey, Art is Useless When You’re Being Mauled by a Bear is an exciting production in so many ways. First and foremost, it is imaginative in the extreme and highly entertaining. The ensemble is extraordinary in its commitment to style. The scenic design by Jennifer DeRosa and Madylin Durrie supports the simultaneous locales of house and fantasy with a lightly cluttered downstage and whimsical, painterly upstage. Choreographer Tavi Stutz, a veteran of many companies around the world, including Cirque du Soleil, has done wonders with dance and movement that is energetic, athletic, and beautiful. After reading the program with her usual thoroughness, my One-and Only espied two red swaths of cloth that went from the floor to the pipes. “Cirque du Soleil!,” she said. And, sure enough, Marc Leclerc, in a scene of chaos, scampered up the fabric, latched on to a pipe, slithered his way across, and slid on the other side of the stage. Rounding out the creative staff are Tor Brown, lighting and video designer and Angela Santori, hair and makeup designer. Britt Crisp manages the stage with cool assurance. The music of Moby is ideal.
Loft Ensemble’s production of Art is Useless When You’re Being Mauled by a Bear continues through November 10 at 11031 Camarillo Street in North Hollywood.