Kristina Drager, Nathan Dana Aldrich (background) and RJ Jones (foreground) star in the Garage City Theatre's production of 'Caged.'

Kristina Drager, Nathan Dana Aldrich (background) and RJ Jones (foreground) star in the Garage City Theatre’s production of ‘Caged.’

City Garage at Bergamot Station always does something that’s interesting and intellectually challenging.

That’s true of their latest production, the world premiere of Charles A. Duncombe’s “Caged,” a provocative examination of human nature and human relationships. It’s directed by City Garage artistic director Frédérique Michel.

For those who might want to know ahead of time, this play involves two naked humans onstage throughout the entire production. But while they are the “focus,” their bare bodies are a metaphor and nothing “X-rated” happens.

The action alternates between the two caged characters as they interact with one another and people from the outside coming in to observe them, who are really acting out their own lives; interspersed with an ongoing clinical-style analysis in the form of a Q&A between a woman in a lab coat and another woman asking questions about her statements regarding the caged characters.

The cage curves a central viewing area; on both sides there are platforms, similar to the sleep-and-play areas you’d see in a zoo cage. On the female’s side, there’s a rope ladder and a round swing down front. On the male’s side there’s a hanging rubber tire swing, and each has a giant inflated plastic bowling pin. The male also has a giant inflated plastic bowling ball. These props will play into the action onstage.

The design of the stage makes it possible to imagine that we, the audience, are in the cage with these two “specimens,” even as we are watching them. The lab-coated technician explains some facts about how the two came to be caged, telling us “they’re better off here,” because “left to themselves they become violent.” She notes that “they form into tribes and plan and conduct attacks on other tribes … preying on each other … over the slightest differences” between them.

It’s clear the meaning here refers to more than just the two characters in the cage.

Slowly pacing and stalking, the male and female look warily and wordlessly at one another from opposite sides of their shared cage. Throughout they will approach and pull back, act out behaviors and react to actions of those watching them.

Now our focus shifts to the people on the other side of the imaginary glass that separates cage from viewing area. While you get caught up in the outsiders’ dramas, don’t forget to look at the two naked characters to see who is mirroring what. Someone says, “Confined as they are, it’s a kind of freedom, really.” Is it?

We see all manner of humanity pass through: a young boy with a balloon on an outing with his family; a lonely woman who assumes that a stranger’s offer to share a sandwich is a sexual come-on; a married man on a family outing (the young boy’s family) and his mistress, whom he came to tell that they can’t meet today. Later, this scenario will be repeated word for word but it will be reversed, with the woman telling the man they can’t get together.

A hobbled old woman suffering the indignities of old age thinks she understands the creatures, from her perspective as an unwanted senior whose family wants to put her away. She also harbors a fantasy of blowing things up. Against the rules, she feeds peanuts to the female … but her belief in their connection is broken when the female reaches through the bars to try and strangle the old lady.

There is the lecherous young man who sees the female as a mere sex object, and a kind of “new age” couple that expresses the realization about what it has in common with these two caged, naked figures: “We’re just a more complicated version of them.” Are they?

At the end of the play, the naked male and female step forward to speak for the first time. They utter some profound thoughts that take us from the death and rebirth of cells to the creation of self and consciousness, how we see ourselves and others see us, and how our emotions can cage us — all in just under 90 minutes. Time flies when you’re contemplating humanity in all its contradictions.

“Caged” runs at City Garage on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through March 24. Call (310) 453-9939 or visit www.citygarage.org.

 

Santa Monica’s influence

 

Santa Monica’s 18th Street Arts Center can boast that its influence is strong in Oxnard, Calif. and by extension, on the future art scene of Los Angeles.

Multidisciplinary artist, gallery director and curator Christine Morla and visual artist, educator and curator Ichiro Irie have both been residents at the 18th Street complex, they’re both alumni of Claremont Graduate University and now teach painting, drawing and design at Oxnard College.

In the tight-knit community of art students and faculty at that two-year college, a core group of promising young talent has emerged over the past five years. Their talents rival those of students at other institutions, and in fact many have gone on to four-year universities and colleges. Some who’ve completed their degrees now reside in the greater Los Angeles area.

A new exhibition, The Oxnartians Have Landed, will feature genres and styles by these young artists, encompassing conceptual and post-conceptual works, low-brow and street art, photography and illustration, and architecture. Artists include PM Beers, Aaron Dadacay, Yi Gao, Antonio Garcia, Olivia Jones-Hernandez, Ana Morales, GeeGee Ontiveros, Gladys Rodriguez, Olguin Tapia, Maria Villote, Jeannette Viveros and Jose Zuniga.

There’s an opening reception on Saturday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.; the exhibition remains on view through March 29. Find out more at http://18thstreet.org.

 

One night only 

 

It’s time to SHINE once again.

Tonight, Feb. 21, the monthly story-telling series SHINE is back at Santa Monica’s YWCA, with true stories of positive change, featuring amateurs, professionals and live jazz. The theme is “The Kiss.” Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for guest storyteller sign-up, stories start at 8 p.m. Come out the third Thursday of each month; for more info visit www.smywca.org or call (310 452-2321.

 

 

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

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