Working toward Gold: True Focus’ “Alchemy”

The alchemists of old devoted themselves to a quest — to transform everyday metals into gold.  The artists of True Focus Theater have bravely undertaken a similar task.

True Focus, now a resident company at the Eclectic in the Valley, invited LA playwrights to submit plays (or other writings) in any style, on any subject, for an evening of short pieces.  They asked for works far outside the ordinary — and got them.

Then they applied the skills of their company members (and friends), transforming eight divergent scripts into live theatre.  None of the eight plays is “realistic” (last century’s dominant mode).  Instead, all visit realities adjacent to — or distant from — our own, most riding on waves of heightened language.

Jonica Patella, Marietta Melrose, Sasha Snow (photo: Adam Neubauer)

We begin with a welcome speech by John Kenower that pushes pre-show announcements into the realm of the risibly absurd.

Then a whimsical notion: two fairies trapped in a postbox.  A century ago, Mailbox Fairies would have been a teacup tale to set beside Peter Pan and Water Babies.  Now, it’s a dark, intense companion to No Exit and Waiting for Godot.  Directed by Elif Savas and Josh T. Ryan, the feys fight furiously to find their lost magic and flee.  Jonica Patella and Gloria Galvan fling Cheryl Slean’s webs of words into the air with urgency, fly about with hopeless abandon, and pack comic and tragic turns into a single heartbeat.

We then have two … enacted poems, let’s call them.  Vanessa Cate (True Focus’ artistic director), in language pared to the bone, has written Let Me Be Bamboo for You and The Captain, both dialogs shared by a woman and a man.  In one, they are a couple (Monica K. Ross and Rick Brown) discussing where to dine; in the other, a sea captain (John T. Cogan) and his lonely wife (Ilona Kulinska).

In each piece, the couples speak to each other — but seldom actually address one another, either verbally or physically.  This creates a sense of yearning and uncertainty, which directors Kenower (Bamboo) and Savas (Captain) stage with wrenching (and at times
hilarious) accuracy.

Then we shift to satire — Lemon Head, a sharply written sendup of modern America’s benevolent yet military foreign policy.  Author Hank Bunker names and tosses in all the parts, but stirs them in a mad-tea-party office meeting so they’re slightly off-key, comic.  The cast (Richard Mooney, Tyler McAuliffe, Cate, Mariana Leite and Roger K. Weiss) create sharp parodies of familiar types, keeping a tight, focus-switching pace under directors Cate and Angie Hoover.

After intermission, we meet a young woman (Aleriza Navarez) who’s made her own vlog about the harsh reality of dating.  But as How to Win a Guy in One Hour progresses, our suspicions about her link to any reality are raised, then confirmed.  Cate and Hoover (the author) again direct, letting things spiral ever faster out of hand.

Bridget, written and directed by Kenower, introduces a closely knit couple snuggling and talking.  Terry (Brown) starts to tell a dream he has had, then he and Bridget (Ross) cross-talk about TV ads; they end affirming their happiness as well-targeted consumers.  It’s a swift, sweet peek at a vapid dystopia we may already inhabit.

Finally, Shayne Eastin’s Huachuca Point brings us back to poetry, but of a visionary kind.  In a post-apocalyptic Arizona, three goddess-like figures (Patella, Sasha Snow, and Marietta Melrose) are kidnapped by treasure hunters (Max Faugno and Al Brody).  But the treasure they seek — like the alchemists’ gold — turns out to hold redemptive possibilities.  Directors Eastin and Cate keep us on the path as we piece the mystic mystery together.

THTR ALCHEMY is a brief evening full surprises and promises, one that makes you eager to see what these folks will do next.  True Focus skillfully takes the common metals of our lives and transforms them into something approaching gold.  If their alchemical journey is any indication of where LA’s experimental theatre is going, we’re in for a lively ride.
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THTR ALCHEMY, by various authors and directors.
Presented by True Focus Theater, at the Eclectic Company Theater, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village 91607.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00,
through May 27th.

Tickets:  <thtralchemy.brownpapertickets.com>