I hate writing “bad” reviews for shows. Hate it.
Don’t get me wrong, I will bring out the ol’ file and start sharpening the teeth; I’ll strip down, dye myself blue, and strap my enemies’ heads around my waist when I come across some heavily backed, much lauded, poorly written, inauthentic, and totally fraudulent piece of coprolite masquerading as a play.*
But a “bad” show where the spirit was willing, but….well, rats.
Also having to write a “bad” review means I had to sit through a bad show and I really hate that.
What compounds my dissatisfaction with the task at hand is the talent behind the project in question.
Chris Field is an excellent director, and Tommy Smith an excellent playwright. This was attested to by their last collaboration Firemen, one of the top productions of 2014.
That infidelity, secret police, tortured artists; court intrigue, clandestine gay sex, clandestine straight sex, clandestine nasty sex, clandestine Elizabethan sex, a bloody double murder, a suicide by hanging and the insertion of a “foreign object” are all present in Fugue, and I was bored.
Fugue is reminiscent of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, except instead of one crazed creative genius; you’ve got three, framed as a dramatic triptych: Peter Tchaikovsky, Arnold Schoenberg and 17th century nobleman, Madrigal composer and wife murderer, Carlo Desualdo.
Fugue plunges downward, in an effort to expose where each man sought to mine the ore of creativity, in the dark, deep caverns of their psyches. It inquires where in the chaos of their lives they were able to find the source of their musical compositions.
The artistic achievement that Fugue bares the strongest resemblance to is, not Amadeus but, D.W. Griffith’s towering 1916 epic of the silent film era, Intolerance.
It too took separate narratives plucked from wide-ranging historical periods in an effort to expose the perpetual follies of men through their common actions.
Intolerance was an ambitious undertaking, and so is Fugue.
But sometimes we set the bar too high.
Ideally a fugue is a composition of three sections, repetitions at various pitches in a complementary counterpoint.
Neither Smith nor Fields succeeds in unifying the three tales within a solid thematic frame that serve as a recapitulation.
The stories of Schoenberg’s discovering his wife’s affair, of Tchaikovsky’s desperation to hide his homosexuality, and of Desualdo’s brutal murder of his wife and her lover perhaps intended to crisscross the stage, as dance couples would in a Fugue, instead collide as if in a mosh pit.
Smith hasn’t chiseled any distinction into his three choices of scene settings. Nor has Fields imposed any stylistic definitions on his actors to denote the various periods, other than clothing them in Michael Mullen’s superb costumes.
The cast, alas, are left adrift by this lack of guidance. Alana Dietze as Tchaikovsky’s wife and Troy Blendell as Schoenberg manage to keep their heads above water longer than most of the cast but eventually they too slip beneath the waves.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through March 22.
All tickets are $25.
Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039.
On-site parking is free. For reservations and information, call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.
* (I won’t mention any names, but their initials are The Whipping Man.)