Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Monster of Happiness
We are introduced to a man. A narrator, like on an elementary school science film about an animal species on another continent, tells us this is "The Happy Man." It's a good thing the narration tells us this, as the man isn't what we'd normally think of as "happy." The word that comes to mind instead is "content." He lives a solitary existence in a nondescript home. Everything in his life is simple and satisfactory. There is no anger, hatred, or tears - but no joy, laughter, or excitement either. He just is.
And this is a modern-day Adam in a modern-day Eden, and the play is Theatre Movement Bazaar's Monster of Happiness, a multimedia performance work investigating the nature and pursuit of happiness. And the first thing the show hits you with is a very definite idea of what was so lousy about the "perfect happiness" of Eden, a life without any challenges or curiosity.
The story of this Adam and the Eve he ultimately meets ("People who lead a solitary existence," he says, "always have something they are eager to talk about") is performed by Richard Alger and Tina Kronis in a particularly stylized way. Every movement is choreographed, every sentence specifically timed. There is not a wasted gesture, bend or turn in the entire production. A techno-sounding underscore keeps the performers in perfect synchronization - both with each other and with a pre-filmed movie which is shown on an oversized screen that acts as the upstage wall of the set. Other plays have made use of actors interacting with pre-filmed (or real-time digital imaging) elements, but none have been as stunning or clever as Theatre Movement Bazaar's work here. At one point, the light shifts and we see the man's shadow on the wall behind him. But is it truly his shadow, or just the image of a shadow on the film? That this occurs when he is discussing Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" and inviting us to question what is real and what is only shadows, is a breathtaking moment of theatre neatly meeting philosophy.
With its intentionally stilted performance style and ruminations on cerebral themes, it might appear that Monster of Happiness is an inaccessible piece. That isn't the case. It's surprisingly easy to follow and understand. The difficulty comes when you think back on the play. For example, at one point, the man is explaining to the woman the utopian city he intends to build. On one street, he wants to locate places for "adult entertainment and release." "Pornography?" asks the woman. "Religion," he replies. It's a quick and easy laugh, but you might want to ponder it later and consider the place religion fills in the context of the quest for happiness.
Monster of Happiness is difficult for a note-taking critic simply because it is so packed with content. Drop your eyes to note a clever image and you may miss the next one; take a moment to remember a thought-provoking line and three more pass you by. The show's 70-minute single act is more rich than many traditional shows of twice its length. Paradoxically, it probably wouldn't hurt to cut ten or fifteen minutes out of it, as, by the end, the production is almost overkill. Overall, though, Monster of Happiness is unique, ambitious, and well worth a look.
Monster of Happiness runs at the 24th Street Theatre through July 14, 2007. For tickets and information, see www.TheatreMovementBazaar.org.
24th Street Theatre and Theatre Movement Bazaar present Monster of Happiness. Co-created and Performed by Tina Kronis and Richard Alger. Director/Choreographer Tina Kronis, Writer Richard Alger; Co-Producer Jay McAdams; Co-Producer Debbie Devine; Associate Producer Juan Parada; Set Designer Jeff Webster; Costume Designer Ellen McCartney; Video Designer Austin Switser; Lighting Designer Chris Kuhl; Sound Designers T. Kronis + R. Alger; Technical Director Ry Buffington; Assist. Lighting Designer Alain Jourdenais; Assist. Sound Designer/Sound Op. Tom Engler; Light Board Op. Aaron Francis; Voice Over Jake Eberle; Publicist David Elzer; Painters Henry Webster, Ellen McCartney, Michael Glover, Tamae Glover and Julie Lockhart; Cinema Director/Editor Richard Alger; Cinema Director/Choreographer Tina Kronis; Cinematography/Lighting Michael Glover; Cinema Assistant Lighting Tamae Glover; Cinema Graphics Hans Michaud; Cinema Ensemble Michael Barron, Melina Beilefelt; Tegan Cohen, Jake Eberle, Aaron Francis, Jenifer Hamel, Jessica Hanna, Crystal Keith, Edgar Landa, Gail Langstroth, Majken Larsson, Julie Lockhart, Peter Mattsson, David LM McIntyre, David Nott, Michelle Philippe, Paul Plunkett, Stacey Ramsower, Pogo Saito and Jacob Sidney.