Potential Space: Theater Review
Theatre of NOTE (through Oct. 27)
Kirsten Vangsness, Lauren Letherer, Jennifer Flack, Wendi West, David Wilcox, Tristan James Butler, Eric Neil Gutierrez, Trevor H. Olsen, Grace Eboigbe
Kirsten Vangsness writes and stars in a thoughtful yet laugh-loaded meditation on sex and relationships.
Unfolding almost entirely within the divided self of Dulcie (Kirsten Vangsness of Criminal Minds), whose emotional life is even more messily active than her sex life, Potential Space traverses familiar territory with fresh, scabrous invention, many generations past The Three Faces of Eve, Sex and Single Girl, and even beyond In the Cut (a VHS of which appears as a nightstand prop). Desperate not to be left “boy-less,” Dulcie caroms from one beau to another, each time permitting the debates among her mind/superego (portrayed by stalwart Lauren Letherer), her heart (an inner brat played by Wendi West) and her sex/id (Jennifer Flack) to sabotage her relationships with inscrutably contradictory demands. Yet she is also so paralyzingly perceptive as she scrunitizes and recontextualizes every male gesture and utterance that any first-date couple encountering the show will surely emerge cripplingly self-conscious.
This internal four-way argument among self and its constituents may exaggerate for comic effect, but the graphic tug of competing impulses and doubts was spot-on familiar and rang true both to women and men, frequently as funny as vintage Woody Allen gags (only far more up-to-date). The climax, which involves four simultaneous dithers of distracting insecurities during a first sexual encounter, carried echoes of the multiple arias in counterpoint from Cosi fan Tutte, not so sublime but almost as dazzling in its way. Ironically, neither lover achieves orgasm, in fact barely even penetration, though the audience sure does.
In its final movements, devolving into what appears to be an extended and somewhat excruciating apologia for consensual physical abuse and the effect of the death of Dulcie’s closest friend, the gay and handy Andy (David Wilcox), Dulcie becomes less an object for identification than consternation. The affirmation of the ending was, for this viewer, almost entirely obscure. Oddly, one last time Dulcie finds a way to throw a wet blanket over the proceedings.
It isn’t easy to levitate this many balls in the air, and director Bill Vorhees and his unwieldy company consistently hit grace notes on the tiny stage while never dropping any beats in a piece wantonly dependent on tight rhythm. Vangsness avoids any pandering at loveability, which makes her all the more accessible. The men, who must labor as risible projections of the protagonist’s fears, still manage to eke out recognizably vulnerable portraits. And the chorus of inner voices is manic, unafraid, abrasive and written and played strictly adhering to each’s nature.
Theatre of NOTE maintains a prolific schedule of ambitious new works, inevitably uneven but always daring, determined and unbeholden to the norms and niceties of the city’s more high-profile stages. Astoundingly now in its 32nd year, the company is emblematic of so many committed troupes throughout Los Angeles who labor to provide distinctive live performance notwithstanding paltry recognition. Attention must be paid.
Venue: Theatre of NOTE (through Oct. 27)
Cast: Kirsten Vangsness, Lauren Letherer, Jennifer Flack, Wendi West, David Wilcox, Tristan James Butler, Eric Neil Gutierrez, Trevor H. Olsen, Grace Eboigbe
Director: Bill Voorhees
Producers: West and Vangsness
Set Designer: Vincent Jefferds
Lighting Designer: Matt Richter
Sound Designer: Bryan Maier
Costume Designer: Kimberly Freed
Sundance: On the Scene