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North Atlantic  – The Wooster Group – Los Angeles Theater Review  

 

THE DECONSTRUCTION OF SOUTH PACIFIC 

 

picture - North AtlanticTheater Review 

by Harvey Perr 

published February 14, 2010 

 

North Atlantic 

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.

 

picture - North AtlanticWhat 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.

 

picture - North AtlanticThere 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

 

 
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