SCRamble – South Coast Rep brings the Alternative to Orange County

By Ramona Pilar Gonzales

John Merchant and Natalie Micchiche from Rickerby Hines's Dreamscape

John Merchant and Natalie Micchiche from Rickerby Hines’s ‘Dreamscape’

The South Coast Repertory brings an array of interdisciplinary theater companies to the Nicholas Studio for SCRamble as part of their commitment to “theatre that illuminates the compelling personal and social issues of our time” for the second year in a row. Spirited co-hosts Jeremy Aluma and Oanh X. Nguyen were as much fun as a clandestine flask of whisky – perfect for the 10:00 pm performance.  The 10 minute pieces were culled from across the L.A. Metro area and were as diverse in content and context as the region itself. The following companies performed on February 16, 2013.

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SHE: an excerpt from THE MOSAIC WONDERLAND PROJECT by Moving Arts.

SHE was a multi-media piece excerpted from a larger work entitled The Mosaic Wonderland Project,  an ongoing monologue and short scene exhibition developed in conjunction with L.A. artist Kimberly Jordan.  The intent was to explore the relationship between the visual and performing arts using a monologist and video projections to illustrate this point. At the top of the show, the audience was informed that each company only had 15 minutes to tech their pieces. SHE relies heavily on technical elements – sound, music, projections. With such a tech heavy piece and only 15 minutes to tech in the space on the day of the performance, it was evident they needed more time to bring the elements together. Using an opaque curtain as a backdrop for the projected artwork made it difficult to see the image at all. Perhaps SHE works better in its larger mosaic context.  

Josephine, an excerpt from Hotel de l’Avenir by Echo Hart Commons

Josephine comes from writer/performer Alexis McNab’s “clown-cabaret” Hotel de l’Avenir.  In it we are treated to McNab hitting all the hipster solo performance notes she can: Saucer-eyed, Faux-French American girl in a short, flouncy skirt singing Bright Eyes and Chris Isaak songs along to an accordion while incongruous “shadow puppets” – hotel backdrop, planes, rockets, balls – fly across the background. Where SHE was heavily reliant on technology for art, McNab’s Josephine relies way too heavily on generic iterations of the Zooey Deschanel quirky-cute variety. Maybe that was the clown element. The result was whimsy for the sake of whimsy without any authentic meaning or purpose. Which was disappointing, because, I love me some accordion.

El Verde: Night of Kukaracha by Anthony Aguilar

This live-action comic series features Arturo Sanchez, a mild-mannered Mexican American factory worker turned superhero – El Verde.  Referencing the ebullient silliness of Adam West’s Batman and and 1950s radio serials, Night of the Kukaracha was a welcome shot in the arm. The premise: A jilted fast food mascot (a delightfully grotesque Jeremiah Ocañas as the Kukaracha King) vows to take down his former employer. Unfortunately for him, Arturo (aka El Verde) happens to be in that exact same establishment. Chaos and self-referential hilarity ensue.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have performed as part of the El Verde juggernaut as his arch nemesis, La Quinceanera,  fulfilling a lifelong dream to inhabit the mind of an evil genius on stage, and it was because of writer Aguilar and Director Alejandra Cisneros.  They’ve taken El Verde from it’s humble beginnings at Casa 0101’s “Little Casa” to the (comparatively) temperature-controlled South Coast Repertory in Orange County. This writer and former ensemble member could not be more proud.

The Experiment by Actors Circle Ensemble

Written by Melanie Wehrmacher, The Experiment is reminiscent of the film Cube in that there are characters trapped in a small space helpless to the whims of some powerful, omnipresent, omnipotent government entity. The two characters, one male, one female, are military (indicated by costume) and have been beaten, possibly tortured (as indicated by stage blood). There were “dramatic” staged tableauxs to indicate physical tension.  Dialogue was shouted to indicate intensity and fear, demanding the audience to feel the drama!

It wasn’t fully clear as to why the decision was made for Sean Burgos’s character to be a bit of a dullard. This resulted in a Frankenstein’s monster quality that was disengaging. But not as much as the yelling. Alexa Giuffre indicated intensity by sticking her fingers in her messy, dorm-bun hair and shouting her lines to the point of losing her voice at the end of the ten minute scene. It’s Twilight Zone intentions were noble, but missed the mark.

The Best of Craigslist by The Smith and Martin Company

John Pick performed three characters from the company’s webseries The Best of Craigslist. Guffaws abound. While I’m certain the videos are rife with hilarity in their own right, I proudly wear the brand of the privileged few to have seen John Pick perform these characters live. From the first “KONICHIWA BITCHES” to the final peach cobbler smeared declaration of awe and wonder, The Best of Craigslist was a comedic extravaganza. While the easy thing would be to make fun of some of the more ridiculous offerings on Craigslist, Pick infuses the right amount of sincerity to make the off-the-wall characters he created endearing.

Ineffable by Ten West

Jon Monastero and Stephen Simon bring the Buster Keaton-tinged, old school vaudeville stylings to life in this nonsensical piece featuring two mortuary workers. They enter carrying a coffin accompanied by Chopin’s Funeral March which calls to mind any of several Bugs Bunny cartoons, and aptly sets the tone for the piece. The piece was a barrage of randomalia: sendups of catholic masses, vocal hijinks, physical comedy and, of course, a water bit. Like El Verde’s piece, it was a wonderful homage to the roots of storytelling that make entertainment the booming industry it is today, and why live theater will always have an edge.

Ten West’s INEFFABLE from Ten West on Vimeo.

An Excerpt from Dreamscape by Rickerby Hinds

This was the only production to feature original music, in the way of beat boxing. Rickerby Hinds’s submission comes from a larger work looking at the death of 19 year old Myesha Mills who was shot 12 times by Riverside police as she sat unconscious in her car. At the beginning of the piece actress Natalie Micchiche wears the character of Mills, but doesn’t quite inhabit her. As the piece progresses, she deftly handles the poetic dialogue and the nuances of a complex character in a complex situation. John Merchant, as both 911 operator and first police officer on scene does fantastic work, emerging from the background into the forefront as more information on the case is revealed. It was great to see this piece in Orange County, given that it has had it’s fair share of complicated police shootings.

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As an audience member, it’s wonderful to see such a large, widely renowned theater have faith, not only in their seasonal subscribers, but the public at large, and present them with homegrown fare rather than sticking to the shows that trickle down from the New York stages.