Brian T. Finney in 'Heart of Darkness.' (Photo courtesy Jean-Louis Darville )

Brian T. Finney in ‘Heart of Darkness.’ (Photo courtesy Jean-Louis Darville )

I can’t speak highly enough about “Heart of Darkness” at The Actors’ Gang Theatre in Culver City.

A seven-year-long passion project of actor/adapter Brian T. Finney, this extraordinary one-man show crystallizes the essence of Joseph Conrad’s classic novel. Like Michelangelo who would carve a block of marble until a figure revealed itself, Finney wrote, rewrote and pared away ideas and words from the novel, until he and director Keythe Farley whittled the densely written novel down to a briskly dramatic, intelligent and important 75-minute one-man play.

It’s an amazing accomplishment, given the book’s scope, and Finney is a masterful performer.

This non-profit theatre founded by actor Tim Robbins, who still serves as artistic director, The Actors’ Gang has been around for three decades, and the secret to its longevity is its purity of intention and its integrity. Many members have been there for years, even decades, some from the very beginning. All members take hands-on roles in every production, from acting, to ushering, to set building, to pouring wine in the lobby and sweeping up after the show. Their complete commitment comes through in every staging.

Their spare productions make magical use of simple elements to great effect. For “Heart of Darkness,” the only props are a table, a chair and a steamer trunk. The stage is laid out with diagonal cross stripes culminating in a tip that points toward the audience like the prow of a boat, and three large white sails that rotate around, moved by two silent, costumed stagehands.

Taking us from London to Belgium and up the river Congo, words and images are projected on the sails, paired with Finney’s sonorous voice as Marlow, and atmospheric sound elements that set the mood and enhance the experience.

Marlow, over an evening game of dominos with friends, is recounting his voyage up the Congo, and his search for the mysterious, magisterial and mad Kurtz. This meeting will change his life forever, teaching him the true meaning of “the horror” — the novel’s key phrase — wreaked by white Europeans on black Africans … and on Kurtz himself.

Finney portrays a one-man band of characters, and with a few minor tweaks, the rich literary narration comes directly from Conrad’s masterpiece, which portrayed the racist attitudes of its day (and Conrad’s own) that civilized white Europeans were superior to the primitive natives of Africa.

It’s estimated that in the 1890s King Leopold of Belgium killed 11 million Africans in his conquest of this resource-rich region. But the play resonates today, as another six million people have been killed over mining of the minerals and materials that make up the chips and electronics in our computers and cellphones.

Finney helps us understand “the horror” in this magnificent production, pointing out in his program notes, “Perhaps, if we listen closely to [Marlow’s] story, we, too, might discover a new way to respond to the horrors of our time, which are the horrors of all times.”

“Heart of Darkness” is not to be missed. See it at The Actors’ Gang at Ivy Substation in Culver City through May 18. More information at theactorsgang.com or call (310) 838-4264.

 

LACO’s Westside connections

 

Celebrated author Mona Simpson headlines the final performance in L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s Westside Connections series “Music and Story,” this Monday, April 15 at The Broad Stage.

She’ll guide the audience through the literary connections between Beethoven’s “Violin Sonata #9,” which inspired Tolstoy’s novella, “The Kreutzer Sonata,” and in turn Janácek’s “String Quartet No. 1,” both of which will be performed by members of LACO.

Concertmaster Margaret Batjer curates Westside Connections, and told the Santa Monica Daily Press: “I had never met Mona, but had read her very moving eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs. I then read her book ‘My Hollywood’ whose protagonist is a classical composer. I discovered she was an esteemed professor at UCLA and Bard College. As an added fait accompli, she and Jeffrey Kahane, our music director, grew up in the same neighborhood. That was serendipity!”

Simpson says she loves exploring the connections between artforms.

“We live in a society of specialists; we’re all tunnelers, lost in the pleasurable complexity of what we study and love. It’s thrilling to consider another art and to confront its alien beauty. It’s another way to become a beginner again.”

Tickets can be purchased online at laco.org, at The Broad Stage box office on the night of performance (Monday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m.) or by calling (213) 622-7001 ext. 1.

 

Classy dames

 

Did you know there’s a troupe of contemporary burlesque artists who ply their trade right here in Santa Monica?

L.A.’s Theatrical Burlesque Troupe, The Dollface Dames, perform every Monday at Brittania Pub and on the first Wednesday of each month at TRiP Santa Monica.

This weekend I’ll be attending “Classy and Brassy: The Dollface Dames present a Night of Vintage Burlesque and Comedy,” and you can join me, as the show takes place this Saturday night at Magicopolis.

The night includes performances by comedic dominatrix Lola Boutée, Brainy ballerina Kitty Kat DeMille and Dixieland Delight Dixie Mae Rebel, along with other popular Dollface Dames characters.

A cabaret-style evening recalling the golden years (1920s-40s) of burlesque, The Dames have added another layer of fun by inviting Tin Pan Radio Theatre to join them to create an improvised radio show.

Doors open at 9:30 p.m. for a pre-party, with bartenders pouring drinks and performing magic tricks. Seating for the show starts at 10:30 p.m., and you can stick around for the Midnight After Party, with more libations and prestidigitation. VIP tickets are only $20 in advance ($25 at the door), or $15 general admission.

Get tickets for the Dollface Dames show “Classy and Brassy” here: classyandbrassy.eventbrite.com. Magicopolis is located at 1418 Fourth St.

 

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW — Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.

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