U.K. actor-playwright-provocateur Tim Crouch is a unique deconstructer of the theatrical experience. He tells anguished first-person stories of people in extremis, but couches them within unique structures designed to challenge our preconceptions about speaker and text. In its North American premiere at the Kirk Douglas, Crouch’s “The Author” breaks down the barriers between audience and performer, offering a deeply disturbing 80 minutes for those willing to meet him halfway.“An Oak Tree,” the international favorite he brought to Culver City’s Odyssey last year, described the confrontation between a hypnotist and the father of a little girl killed by the hypnotist’s reckless driving. The twist was the appearance, at each performance, of a new “name” thesp to portray the bereaved dad with zero prior knowledge of backstory or narrative. The hapless volunteer would follow sides of dialogue and directions whispered into an earpiece, to live out the catastrophe in — literally — present tense. By contrast, “The Author” is told in past tense, but immediacy is again manipulated for maximum impact. Our minds are bent from the moment we’re seated on what is actually the Douglas stage, on two sets of facing bleachers separated by the width of what would be needed for a bocce tournament. Intimate, extended perusal of one’s fellow spectators is the first but far from the last instance of forced perspective to which “The Author” subjects us. The subject under consideration is a play supposedly written by Crouch for performance at London’s Royal Court Theater, on the subject of human degradation in what we’re led to believe are the war-torn Balkans, or possibly Chechnya. What occurred in the rehearsal process, during the run and in its aftermath is slowly revealed to us, touching most specifically on our relationship with the kinds of violent imagery available as an everyday Internet bill of fare. To indicate much more would dilute the experience; suffice it to say such debonair acting — from Crouch and three gifted countrymen and collaborators — has rarely been put to such devastating purpose. Those who want their dramatic i’s definitely dotted and t’s explicitly crossed will surely be frustrated, antsy and bored. But those unafraid of sitting for a while in ambiguity may experience some pretty profound revelations, not the least of which is the recognition of where “authorship” really resides. You may also come to remember we can’t change obscenity, but it certainly has the power to change us.
Kirk Douglas Theater, Los Angeles; 120 seats; $25 top
A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in one act by Tim Crouch. Directed by Karl James and a smith (sic).
Lighting, Christopher Kuhl; original lighting, Matt Drury; sound, Ben and Max Ringham; stage manager, Elle Aghabala. Opened Feb. 15, 2011. Reviewed Feb. 19. Runs through Feb. 27. Running time, 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.
With: Tim Crouch, Chris Goode, Vic Llewellyn, Esther Smith.