Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Naked Before God

presented by Circle X Theatre Co. at [Inside] the Ford


I remember the moment I learned about the [Inside] the Ford Winter Partnership Program.  My immediate response was an explosive expletive followed by the word "Yes" and an exclamation point. A program wherein a large theatrical entity takes a smaller, scrappier theatrical entity under its wing to produce a new work?  Technical and marketing support and the smaller company keeps most of the box office?  The Ford is a hero, folks.  And they are choosy about who they bring into the program.  So consider this an upfront disclosure:  I went into Naked Before God expecting the best of Los Angeles Under-99 Theatre.  I was not disappointed.

Naked Before God is a farce of the new American dream; our obsession with the quick fix for what ails us, the Hail Mary pass towards religion, and the eager pursuit of disposable celebrity and the fortune that it accompanies.  Placing this farce in and around the modern porn industry is a meta statement on our town – the players could just as easily be pursuing a more “conventional” form of plastic glory in TV and film – making this a very Hollywood story, despite its Arizona setting. The farce is aimed at us, fellow Angelenos,  but it’s a loving farce, absolutely turgid with lovable, twisted people.  They are bigger than life, and all too believable.

Writer/director Leo Geter is the mastermind behind this work.  Act one is a series of toppers – just when you think things can’t get more complicated, they do.  Act two is a series of twists – Geter gleefully rips the rug out from under us at every turn.  The playwright also gives lie to the old reviewer’s chestnut that “a playwright should never direct his own work.”  Geter's staging is at times naturalistic, and the moments of slapstick that do occur flow naturally and logically from the narrative.

The cast is wonderful, gaining a solid grip on the madness and pumping it for all it's worth.  There is not a wasted moment; the piece has been thoroughly explored, and every moment is mined for its full comic potential.  Jennifer A. Skinner as Kristen, the retired porn star who is figuratively (and literally, by play's end) "naked before God", delivers.  She runs right up to the edge of improbability, and dances.  She is a joy and a delight. Kristen’s monologue about the three-way is the play’s highpoint, and Skinner makes it a heart-warming family moment.

On top of it all, we have an absolutely perfectly rendered production design.  Brian Sidney Bembridge's set is an engineering marvel by under-99 standards, with a fully functional kitchen and walls that swivel to reveal the interior and exterior of Kristen’s house.  A patch of murky carpet easily doubles for grass in the second act.  I truly wonder how long Bembridge spent looking for that exact right shade and texture.  Clever use of moving lights extend the outdoor scenes up to the police helicopter-occupied heavens.  Great care is taken with Ann Closs-Falrey's costume design – Kristen dresses in the hippest fashions of 20 years ago, while son Duncan looks like he just stepped out of a Vice magazine ad.

We all like to say "support the theatre."  We should be more specific:  Support GOOD theatre.  Go see this show.  Go because it is balls-deep funny.  Go because Circle X wants to entertain YOU, not just themselves.  And in the end, it's all about mutual pleasure, isn't it?

Naked Before God does it while you watch on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 pm through April 28th.  [Inside] the Ford is located at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in Hollywood (off the 101, just north of the Hollywood Bowl.)

General admission is $25, except for Sunday matinees, which are Pay-what-you-can.  Parking is ample, free and non-stacked.  For more information, visit http://www.fordtheatres.org/.

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