And I Thought MY Shit Was Disturbing: "The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)" at Circle X Theatre Co.

You already know that the razor-blade murder scene in the French crime drama, A Prophet, is the most horrifying thing I've seen onscreen. But I've never told you that the most horrifying thing I've seen on stage was in a play at the Exit Theatre in San Francisco many years ago. I don't remember the name of the play or what it was about, but I do remember an actor dragging another actor across the stage, pulling him into the theater's actual alleyway and just out of sight of the audience, pouring what's supposed to be gasoline over what's supposed to be that actor's body, lighting a match, and setting something on fire in the alley while the outside actor screamed in order to simulate someone being burned to death. Who ever said theatre wasn't fun?!

However, that fiery moment got trumped this past weekend when I caught the opening night performance of Tom Jacobson's The Chinese Massacre (Annotated), produced by Circle X Theatre Co. in Los Angeles. Yup, folks, this world premiere production features the single most disturbing death scene I have ever seen on stage (I won't spoil it), a stunning climax to the first act. If this doesn't shake you up, then, yup, you're probably a serial killer (or will become one someday).

The Chinese Massacre (Annotated)—nimbly directed by Jeff Liu and supported by beautifully executed design elements—is a powerful and intellectually stimulating piece of historical theatre about the first race riot in Los Angeles in 1871, in which 18 Chinese men were killed by an angry mob. While it might sound like a somber evening (it is), there's also quite a bit of unexpected humor, mostly in the form of "annotations" that interrupt the action, footnotes (spoken by actors) that comment on the events taking place. They're often clever (Brechtian) deconstructions of the form. Doesn't sound funny? Well, goddamn it, it is.

With such a complex script that has so many movable parts and that demands consistent clarity in tone, all the actors are walking a kind of tightrope from beginning to end. One physical, verbal, or emotional misstep could send the show spiraling out of control. But not only is the cast game, they shine—from the juicy roles played by Elizabeth Ho, West Liang, Ross Kurt Le, Silas Weir Mitchell, and Ryun Yu to the expert annotators (tackling text and capturing tone that's way harder than it looks) played by Richard Azurdia, Jully Lee, Johanna McKay, and Lisa Tharps to everyone else I'm not mentioning because I'm too lazy right now to look them up and it's almost lunchtime. (Hey, I'm not journalist or a theatre critic! I'm just a boy! With a dream! [And that dream's name is Channing Tatum!])

The Chinese Massacre (Annotated) by Tom Jacobson runs through May 28, 2011, at Circle X Theatre Co. in Los Angeles.


And, once again, it's time for me to list the many shows I've seen over the last few months, which I didn't get around to blogging about and I probably never will. (Oh, the demands of celebrity! Sometimes it's a time factor; sometimes theatre companies are too naive to invite me early.) So I'm logging those shows here for personal future reference:
  • Bonded by Donald Jolly, Playwrights' Arena & the Latino Theater Company, Los Angeles, California
  • Hell Money by Ruth McKee, Chalk Repertory Theatre, Los Angeles, California
  • LA Views IV—Downtown Curren(t)cy: Lives Looking for Change by Company of Angels' Playwrights' Group, Company of Angels, Los Angeles, California
  • Wicked by Winnie Holzman & Stephen Schwartz, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California
  • Nerve by Adam Szymkowicz, Chance Theater, Anaheim Hills, California
  • Dangerous Beauty by Michele Brourman & Jeannine Dominy & Amanda McBroom, Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, California
  • 33 Variations by Mois├ęs Kaufman, Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, California
  • Noises Off! by Michael Frayn, A Noise Within, Glendale, California
  • The DNA Trail by Various Playwrights, Silk Road Theatre Project at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
  • The Little Flower of East Orange by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Elephant Theatre, Los Angeles, California
  • Calligraphy by Velina Hasu Houston, Playwrights' Arena, Los Angeles, California
  • Next to Normal by Tom Kitt & Brian Yorkey, Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, California
  • Harps and Angels by Randy Newman, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, California
  • The Wiggle Room by Oliver Mayer, Company of Angeles, Los Angeles, California
  • Leap of Faith by Janus Cercone & Alan Menken & Glenn Slater, Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, California

1 comment:

  1. Pretty much anything that happens in alleys near the Tenderloin's Exit Theatre is horrifying.