Who knew they were making interesting theater out in LA? Ok, fair enough, I still have yet to travel to that fair city myself, but as far as theater goes, it’s more famous for luring playwrights into television and film work than for keeping them active on the stage. But apparently there’s enough going on out there to encourage the eclectic mix of young artists that make up the six-year-old company Sintroca to join together in what it clearly becoming a very taut performance group.
And here they are, for only $12-17 a pop, playing in the Ontological-Hysteric Theater’s upstairs space as part of the theater’s annual Incubator Series. The series, which has a strong sampling of performers running through the rest of the summer (into the first weekend of September), was founded to help buoy emerging artists who in some way reflect the spirit of the theater’s famous progenitor, Richard Foreman. The primary interest of the series’ curators is in young artists who blend different forms into a cohesive whole, i.e. working across disciplines (theater, dance, puppetry, etc.) as well as constructing their pieces collaboratively, for an effect dubbed by Foreman as ‘total theater.’ Rather famously, this kind of work can be both disorienting and evocative in ways that a single media or a piece that emphasizes dialogue alone rarely manage.
Now, you can’t go to an Incubator show expecting to get Foreman or the production standards of a BAM show or a Wooster Group production. These kids are here to test things out, grow and learn, and they’re doing it with very little financial support. But, what’s remarkable about Sintroca’s show for the Incubator, LaSanta, is how much they have accomplished, despite having to pay for the whole thing to be shipped out on their own, and getting a relatively short rehearsal period, followed by a short run at the theater (you’ve only got until July 5 to catch them). These, of course, are, the realities of pretty much all experimental theater produced anywhere in the U.S. nowadays, but it’s rarer and rarer to see young artists thinking big with small resources.
The other thing you’re not going to get with any Incubator show is a simple story being told. You’re there to react, to feel, to remember, to see bits of yourself—what you wish you were, what you wish you weren’t—reflected back at you. Sintroca takes on a big subject, love, but that’s not really what the show is about at all. Reflected through the words and world of Raymond Chandler, one of the quintessential L.A. scribes, LaSanta has a lot more to do with the roles we play in the game of love than with love itself.
By evoking the nostalgia and camp-ridden aesthetic of film noir, LaSanta stirs up the old tension between the male gaze and the female performance. Luckily they don’t beat us over the head with theory-laden didacticism. They let the audience enjoy the smoky pleasure that Chandler’s work so easily elicits, recreating it with relatively simple touches (cigarettes, a live band, costume and brief snippets of dialogue), while the repetitions, mirror images, and sly choreography give us the chance to re-evaluate what’s happening at the same time as we’re enjoying it. Double- and triple-takes letthe viewer step past first impressions without forcing a specific interpretation—a tough thing to pull off without becoming obscure or losing the audience’s attention altogether.
Shannon Gillen’s choreography compliments Madeleine’s Bernatchez’ direction perfectly. And the design of the show, from the costumes to the set, again, with limited resources, is a lot better than most of what hits many an emerging artist spattered stage. It’ll be interesting to see where the show and this company goes from here.