Friday, April 23, 2010

See What I Wanna See's Truth


See What I Wanna See

(L to R) Perry Ojeda, Lesli Margherita and Doug Carpenter
Photo: Rick Baumgartner

Truth is slippery. Intangible. It is can be elusive, complicated, and even misconstrued, yet it always exists, hiding somewhere within the details. The trick is in coaxing it out of its hiding place because, unfortunately, everyone has their own version of it. Ask six witnesses at a crime scene what they saw and you’ll get six different stories based on their perspective at the time. Yes, truth is a slippery little devil and not so easily courted into the light.

The Blank Theatre Company explores the nature of truth in Michael John LaChuisa’s See What I Wanna See, a musical that will challenge your perspective of what you think you see. Rich with subtext and a raw intensity bubbling beneath the surface it asks - do you see the truth? Or do you see only what you want to see?

It is based on three short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. The first, Kesa and Morito, is told in two scenes that function as a prologue at the beginning of each act. The audience meets two lovers (Lesli Margherita and Doug Carpenter) involved in an illicit affair in medieval Japan, each about to kill the other after a final night of lovemaking. It establishes that the world of this musical is a dangerous one in which lust, greed, and power have a seductive impact on the impulses of its players. Indeed, each of these three stories deals with seduction – of the senses, of the body, and most certainly of the mind.


The remainder of Act I is based on R Shoman set in 1951 New York City, and concerns a tangled love trio (Margherita as the Wife, Carpenter as the Thief, Perry Ojeda as the Husband) and a crime of passion a la film noir. The thief encounters the couple leaving a movie theater and a series of events ensues with disastrous consequences for the husband.


What we know for sure is that he dies. What we are left to decide for ourselves is who has committed the crime. Is it the tormented wife, humiliated by years of cruel treatment by her husband? Is it the thief, goaded into the deed in a fit of passion? Or is it the husband himself, in a final desperate attempt at reclaiming his honor. And then again, there’s also the curious janitor (Jason Graae at his best) who just happened to be walking through Central Park and found the “dead” body. Is he nervous by nature or is his a new nervousness born out of recent events?
Director Daniel Henning has assembled an outstanding cast of five actors who turn up the heat and deliver performances that stay with you long after leaving the theatre. Margherita’s woman in red is a fiery pistol of a dame with a gutsy singing voice that conjures up images of smoke and dirty martinis, a luscious vixen with flashes of unexpected little girl vulnerability. Carpenter is sexy, cynical and delivers a grittiness in his character that is provocative at every turn.

Ojeda, offering his version of the truth by way of a Medium (Suzan Soloman), is the perfect third side of the triangle. His voice drips with a mixture of disdain and longing, a lost soul in search of an answer where none can be found.

See What I Wanna See

(L to R) Perry Ojeda, Suzan Solomon, Jason Graae,
Doug Carpenter and Lesli Margherita. Photo: Rick Baumgartner


The third story, Gloryday, is set in present day New York where we find a priest questioning the validity of his faith following the devastating events of a tragedy, presumably 9-11. We watch as Graae (the priest) wrestles with the devil in his mind and ventures into the dark side of his psyche. He is, quite simply, brilliant here, alternating between the pain of uncertainty and the arrogance of superiority.


Building in intensity throughout the act, he leads the others – Margherita as a coked-out disfigured actress, Ojeda as a morally defunct now homeless CPA, and even his own Aunt Monica (Soloman’s plum role of the evening) – to the feverish culmination of the miracle he has invented. It is a strong statement on man’s search for redemption that surfaces in even the worst of us at the moment of truth. Ironically the priest observes, “I understand now how the myth of Christ took root.”


None of this depth would be possible without the impeccable musical direction of David O, who handles Michael John’s LaChiusa’s sophisticated score with a finesse that elevates the entire experience beyond ordinary, everyday musical theatre. Like a heartbeat the music rises and falls in waves in The Blank’s wonderfully intimate space.


See What I Wanna See is one of those rare musicals that requires an audience to take responsibility for what they see before them and decide what is real and what isn’t. With director Daniel Henning leading the way, the result is defiant, raw, intriguing theatre - some of the finest to be found in L.A.


The show runs through May 23. Tickets may be purchased by calling 323-661-9827 or online at www.theblank.com/.

A final note – make sure you take a second look at the graphic design for See What I Wanna See. I had the postcard pinned up on my bulletin board and happened to glance at it from across the room and at an angle. What an incredible optical illusion designed by, I believe, Rick Baumgartner. Did I see what I thought I saw…or did I see what I wanted to see? I wonder.



See What I Wanna See

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Comedy Faceposted by Ellen Dostal, MusicalsInLA @
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