Imagine a play with no words…only projections, pantomime and a virtual, entire album of acoustic guitar songs. Couple that with being falsely accused of murder in Reno and you’ve got “The Wrong Man: An Underground Musical”.
I arrive at Los Feliz’ Skylight Theatre (right next to the Skylight bookstore) about fifteen minutes before curtain. It has been a somewhat challenging day and I am hoping to just kind of sit back and meditate on the piece in question, rather than keep up with a myriad of details I may have to write down, yet still be entertained. So common to artistic Los Angeles functions, I also just happen to notice a familiar face amongst the crowd: Jason Alexander aka Seinfeld’s “George”. If he has taken the time out of his busy schedule to come and enjoy this presentation, I can only assume it bodes well, both artistically and in terms of professional production value. (Seriously, this could really be something–as opposed to nothing, which is still very much something in this sitcom star’s erstwhile milieu…)
The performance begins, as does any other, with the announcement urging all audience members to stop texting, tweeting and facebooking until the production’s conclusion, after which we may text, tweet, virtually bellow and electronically exchange witty repartee to our hearts’ content, particularly if we want to “text and tweet about how awesome” the piece was.
Written, composed, performed and conceptualized by Ross Golan, the lights come up on a man dressed as a death row inmate. He looks appropriately glum and sullen and there is a fittingly dark pall about the stage. All is appropriately harrowing…but we know this is, if not a completely fictional tale, a decidedly imaginary account as…well…death row inmates generally don’t walk around wielding guitars, let alone sing about their impending misfortune. Golan croons and strums. While normally very picky concerning acoustic guitar music, I find the jams positively engaging and sublime.
Golan uses his melodious voice and guitar to take the audience through the tale that is his desolate existence in Reno NV. The only beacon of light in his otherwise questionable subsistence is this girl…this incredible girl, played in pantomime by the lovely and graceful Jennifer Brasuell. It is she who will inadvertently and ultimately cause his imminent incarceration once her body is found by the authorities.
From then on the chase to the ultimate apprehension commences. But it is all for naught as Golan vehemently intones the details surrounding his set-up to the audience and invisible authorities alike.
Both slides and silent film clips projected simultaneously on each of the five staggered screens behind him move the visual narrative seamlessly and cinematically. Golan sings of rain, we are witness the rainy streets of Reno, images of droplets on windshields and dark clouds. Reference made to the woman’s apartment or a seedy hotel prompts our sudden and ambient transportation therein via projection sometimes reminiscent of a John Cougar Mellencamp video… And the lights…all those tacky, wonderful Reno lights…
All performances are solid, Golan’s voice is strong and smooth and the imagery, picture perfect. And the songs…? Uh, yeah, I’d buy that album! Rhythmic and seemingly bass heavy without the necessity of any such related instruments, I am dually impressed!
The only thing constructive criticism I could give is that I wish there had been a bit of surprise to the ending. As Golan proclaims in the beginning—even before the beginning, the title says it all—he is a wrongly accused man. So it ends on the same plane; as above, so below. The writer in me longed for an element of surprise after all that build up in the guise of a possible piece of evidence and/or unforeseen technicality to reverse or change the direction of his fate in the end or, at the very least, a bit of added texture within the context of the plot.
All the same, it is evident that the audience is impressed as Golan and Brasuell take their bows to enthusiastic applause peppered with standing ovations! And…oh yeah…I might’ve been one of those…
The Wrong Man runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 16th at the Skylight Theatre at 1816 ½ North Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
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