North Atlantic – The Wooster Group – Los Angeles Theater Review
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF SOUTH PACIFIC
by Harvey Perr
published February 14, 2010
now playing in Los Angeles at REDCAT
through February 21
opens in New York at the Jerome Robbins Theatre
March 10 – April 25
Ask admirers of the work of The Wooster Group which their favorite work is and you will get as many responses as
there are productions in their repertoire. What they will all agree upon is that there are few theater companies in the world who engage in
such breathtaking teamwork, whose clockwork precision is so mesmerizing and transfixing. Are you one of those who have never seen them?
Then, a trip to the Redcat Theater is mandatory, sometime between the time you read this and February 21. Hurry up. There’s not much time.
The work on display is North Atlantic, which may not be the best example of their dramaturgical skills, but which gives you as good
an example of their ensemble brilliance as any other.
What is North Atlantic? It is so many things at one and
the same time that is like watching a collage of dramatic effects, assembled and re-assembled. It is a ferociously savage attack on the
military mind. It is a nasty portrait of the rampant cynicism that propels our triumphs and failures in the time of war. It is about the
slavish hierarchy that exists in our armed services even in peacetime. It is also South Pacific turned on its ear, twice rotated
until it is, of course, upside down, with its songs replaced by country tunes and shot through with bad jokes and other shtick. It is a
dance of death. It strews its landscapes with explosives and never tells you to run for cover. It is a constant shock to the system. And it
is a terrifyingly dazzling exercise in sheer movement. It was written in 1982 by James Strahs, but it could have been written in the wake of
Abu Ghraib. It is the Cold War and World War II and all present and future wars and, though its characters are intense stereotypes, they are
fleshed out individually by one of the strongest casts you’re likely to see anywhere else in town.
There is Paul Lazar as a general who seems to move in the
direction that his erection leads him to. There are Steve Cuiffo and Zachary Oberzan as marine privates who follow orders that literally
take them up, down, and around Jim Clayburgh’s dangerously and comically sloped set. And there’s Scott Shepherd’s Colonel Lud who turns out
to be even more manic and subversive than everyone, following his movements carefully, can ever imagine. And then there are the nurses and
ensigns, played by Kate Valk, Jenny Seastone Stern, Maura Tierney and Koosil-ja, in a phenomenally concentrated depiction of constant
activity. And that’s Frances McDormand as a master sergeant who’s right in there with them, in propulsive motion (in Los Angeles, it should
be de rigueur to see what real working actors do to keep their creative juices flowing when they are not making movies). But, above
all, there is Ari Fliakos whose Captain Chizzum dominates the stage with a growling ferocity that is simultaneously frightening and
hilarious and, at times, guardedly vulnerable.
I cannot guarantee that you won’t be bored at times or that there aren’t arid patches where you get the feeling that
you have visited that particular piece of dramatic terrain on another occasion, but North Atlantic is essential theater. It is pure.
And it is unique. And, when you get home, you’ll know that you lived through a landmine exploding.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com