The design of the 32-seat Black Box theatre was exactly as one might expect, given the name of the space. Walls and furniture striped with hard angles of black and sanded-red. Before the audience stood three prepared walls, lined with various incarnations of our beloved Stars and Stripes; in fans, bows, draped over the center stage flat like a rainbow.
The three walls lined with framed portraits and photos of midgets, black and white to color. It was an impressive array of images, from midget bodybuilders and Hervé Villechaize of Fantasy Island, to mock headlines like "Midget immigrant stowaways found in Lindsay Lohan's gaping vagina…" It was a great set. Perfect for the play I was expecting to see, given the title "American Midget".
However, it had virtually nothing to do with the play's actual story about Albert, a boy with a crisis of identity, and Mr. Much, the ever-present whisper of fear and doubt in us all.
Well done, Ben Kusler (director). That's what I get for coming into this show with preconceptions.
Since he was eight years old, everyone has been telling Albert (Tom Walz) to be someone other than who he felt he was. From his mother to the kids at school to his shrink, he is constantly shunned for wanting to be an artist. He's told to be a joiner, to be normal, and most often to just be gone. All the while, shiny top hat-wearing Mr. Much whispers in his ears, waiting to be heard and heeded by Albert so he can push the boy into "carving out a purpose in life."
As a young adult, Albert begins to comply, realizing that if he does not conform, he may end up as lost and low as, say, a tuba player. Until he meets Christine. She's hot and smart, and a tuba player. And she's not buying into anything Mr. Much is selling. Soon after she appears on the scene, she is embroiled in a fierce tug of war with Mr. Much and the shrink Dr. Kalamazoo (Eric Hailey), all for Albert's soul.
Mr. Much (Dion Jackson) an unpredictable, always ironic, sometimes haunting Wizard of Oz figure, manipulates the people like pawns on stage with the execution of a grand ringmaster. The occasional affirmation from the divine "Voice" (Derrick Cole) to fortifies his every command. Forget about the fourth wall; Jackson annihilates it from his very first sentence; jubilant one moment, sinister the next.
Over the top, and simultaneously honest, Parisa Fahkri's "Girl" is the perfect pawn, playing out a parallel storyline of what it means to comply with the whispers of Mr. Much. Tom Walz's "Albert" is open and innocent, providing the show with its heart. Paige White's "Christine" does a great job as the one character to stand up to the seductive, absolute-speaking Mr. Much. Eric Hailey moved beautifully through "Dr. Kalamazoo's" journey through collusion to revelation to conversion and back to defeat once more. The acting across the board was truly well done.
American Midget is a great time at the theatre with big performances and a fine cast whose energy dominates the stage. It is very seldom that a show will keep you guessing until the very end. American Midget delivers that rare experience. This show is smart and funny and audacious, demanding audience participation with its intermittent interactive elements. This is a show that is mischievous and dark without being mean spirited, another refreshing quality. Moreover, playwright Jonathan Yukich sneaks in themes of being true to one's self, and a message about the evils of fear and conformity. (Slips them in right under your nose.)
I thoroughly enjoyed this show. If you go to see one play this month… "American Midget" at The Met in Hollywood.
Opened on April 12, 2007
Closes on May 19, 2007
1089 N. Oxford Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90029
Tickets & Info: 323-957-1152
Or visit: http://www.themettheatre.com/