nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
January 8, 2010
Phil Soltanoff's L.A. Party, presented as part of the Public's Under the Radar Festival at Here Arts Center, is the story of a fanatical vegan, recently turned raw foodist, who neglects his constricting life style one night only to find himself thrust into an unforgettable, wild LA bender. Written and narrated by David Barlow, the script contains vivid and explicit descriptions of what he experiences physically, mentally, and sensually, as he invites alcohol and more than one mind-altering substance into his body, which has otherwise been free of toxins.
The audience's laughter resonated and was contagious in this full house. Aside from this well-written and executed 40 minute monologue, it's what's happening on stage that provides the real delight of L.A. Party. Barlow sits stage right in the dark, narrating the story through a microphone with an extremely inflective, engaging voice. A girl, Kristin Oakes, stands center stage dressed in white with tape over her eyes and mouth—she is a human projector screen. Meanwhile Claire Siebers operates a live camera filming actor Ilan Bachrach, who, illuminated by Stephen Brady, lies flat on the floor and without dialogue manages to sync his lips and gestures to Barlow's words. As we listen to Barlow tell the story, our focus is on Bachrach, who is projected onto Oakes's body. This whole endeavor, while impressive, is sometimes distracting when Bachrach's face doesn't exactly line up with Oakes' movement, but the fact that they pull this off is quite amazing. I was even more compelled when I watched Bachrach on the floor, as it took me a few minutes to realize he was there (depending on where you are sitting, you may or may not see him on stage). Bachrach's expressive facial gestures complement Barlow's voice, and he manages to pull off other characters with the mere twitch of an eyebrow.
L.A. Party is a truly collaborative piece that requires its performers to be acutely attentive to each person on stage. Even Barlow's water breaks are expertly choreographed, as he and Oakes, still blinded by tape, manage to pick up a bottle at the same time, while Bachrach moves his mouth in such a way that he appears to be sipping the water.
Towards the end of the piece, our focus shifts to Barlow, who turns and faces the audience for the first time. It was such a treat to finally connect to the person behind the voice we'd so enjoyed listening to. Barlow is so personable and entertaining, I could listen to him tell this story or any other story and never get bored.
One may wonder why Soltanoff chose to utilize various mediums to tell this story. What I got from his conception is that the piece began as an extremely inward story, with an extremely narrow focus on the self. I felt my own self take a trip—literally—and had to keep checking in. But as the mediums were stripped away and our attention shifted to Barlow, it was as though the whole room opened up.
The message here seems to be about valuing life experiences versus trying so hard to control ourselves. Sometimes you have to just let go. And sometimes it takes an unexpected journey to wake up. While I definitely don't feel compelled to go on a psychedelic bender to improve my street credit, I am happy that this experience brought Barlow relief. But I'm glad, for his sake, that it's over.