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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
Michele Hunter
Mark Share
Matt Share
Josh Herz

By M.R. Hunter


Hyperbole—noun, Rhetoric. 1. Obvious and intentional exaggeration. 2. An extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally.

“hyperbole.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 08 Nov. 2010.

Origin—noun. 1. Beginning. 2. Parentage. 3. Source.

origin” Webster’s New Pocket Dictionary. Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2000

It helps to remember what this “hyper-theatrical” endeavor presented by the Rogue Artists Ensemble is all about since it’s not clear if director Sean T. Cawelti knows and even less likely that the audience will.

It is extravagant, i.e. wasteful and excessive in its paper-thin plot, playing on a theme about oddball origins and myths in lieu of any cohesive story. The exaggerated effects with puppetry, video, music and masks, while interesting and somewhat impressive, fail to connect to anything beyond its self-referential conceit. Taking a cue from its title, the show fails to live up to its own aggrandizement and comes across as just a lot of hype.

The buildup occurs before the audience even has a chance to take their seats. Outside in the foyer are displays featuring bits of trivia, oddities such as a glass incased hair ball, and other whimsies like the Wheel of Fortune that uses numbers and a game of chance to predict a person’s future. These curios are similar to what one would see at The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City—in this instance, an assortment of oddities loosely connected to the idea of origin. Upon entering the theatre, audience members are treated to a video that pokes fun at propaganda and subliminal advertising with 60’s inspired cartoon clips. With all this leading up to the show, expectations are bound to be higher, a risk that doesn’t payoff here.

From behind a mad scientist’s lab is a glassy-eyed alien with the cosmos adorned on his denim jacket. His assistants include Stan, a masked Icarus with lofty dreams of his own and a cute penguin puppet. The experiment is to find the origin of things with a push of a red button. Video screens flank each side of the lab, but most of the visual elements come from a lofted globe projector screen upstage where masked characters make spectacular entrances and exits.

Much like the initial foray prior to the show, the first scene depicting the “Origin of Los Angeles” begins on a high and promising note. The creative simplicity in recreating the area from its native beginnings to its current urban state, (blanketing the final sculpture with a grey fabric entitled “Smog”) leads one to believe that the rest of the scenes will be just as entertaining and socially relevant. From there the origins, although imaginative are sloppily treated excursions into obscure myths, unfamiliar symbols and nonsequiturs with strange totems and inscrutable connections. Between the origins are brief interludes that need further development such as the “60 seconds of Science” that lacks any significance in its inclusion or “Stan’s Flights” of fancy.

Some of the origins fare better in terms of its subject. “Origin of Man” is visually stunning with a Native American crow kachina figure dancing around while a pair of male and female wood puppets engages in the age-old courtship ritual. Along this vein, the Southwest legend about the “Origin of the Rabbit in the Moon” is also mildly effective, but seems incongruent between “Origin of the Universe” and “The Big Bang” scenes in Act II.

“Origin of Music” starts on the right foot but winds up going nowhere with the premise of a foot-stomping percussion. Mining a Hawaiian legend in its “Origin of Love/Lava,” the volcanic eruption stemming from unrequited love and jealousy comes across cold and unmoving in an otherwise bizarre love triangle. The “Origin of Sin” suffers from a badly shown reverse chronology of the Fall of Adam and Eve.

Music accompanies each scene featuring artists such as Animal Collective, Ego Plum, The Ditty Bops, John Nobori, Ben Phelps, Ampersand, and Oh No Ono among many others. The music occasionally overpowers the action with its symphonic strutting, becoming more of an audio focal point than the movements onstage especially in “Origin of Man” with music by The Very Best and “Origin of Love/Lava” in its sweeping melody by the tUnE-YaRdS.

The audience participation is minimal, other than the meted out applause and a showcase of drawings done prior to the show. It is discomfiting when the audience garners more laughs and reactions from the crudely drawn images than all the scenes in the show put together.

“Hyperbole: Origins” is the fifth of this series and was first developed as a workshop with the University of California in Irvine. Fringe fans may remember its workshop version this past June. Unlike other productions by the Rogue Artists Ensemble, particularly their successful adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories in their “The Gogol Project,” this retro-futuristic ideal unravels from the expansive attempt to create something so new and exaggerated that it fails to find its own origins in story.

--M.R. Hunter

“Hyperbole: Origins”
Runs through Dec 12
Thurs, Fri & Sat at 8pm
Sat and Sun at 2pm
Sundays at 7pm
[Inside] the Ford
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East
Hollywood, 90068
(Just off the 101)
PH: 323-461-3673


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