As part of the now-defunct group called the Collective, Randy Sean Schulman created “Infinity” and “La Gioconda,” two of the more critically acclaimed shows in recent L.A. theater history. “Infinity” was a dazzling demonstration of style and creativity, while the more specific “La Gioconda” created a live, silent black-and-white film with ingenuity and buoyant wit. Schulman describes his new play, “Luminous Birch,” as the third chapter in this series of works, but when it comes to quality, lightning has not struck thrice.
The story begins with an original black-and-white film, an integral part of the show — there are long sections of time where no one is onstage and the audience is simply watching the movie. There seems to have been a shipwreck of some sort, and Tangerine (Delcie Adams) wakes on the beach, in distress over the absence of her love, Luminous Birch (Schulman). She is captured by the Absurd Conquistador (Roy Johns) and his group of Neuro Nymphs, leaving Luminous to search for her through dual realities.
As clarification, it must be noted that Schulman is the only actor onstage in this production — the other actors are featured only in the film. This does rather leave him as “One Character in Search of a Play,” one actor stranded onstage with few opportunities for interaction or interest. In the film, Schulman is dressed up much like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, his shabby suit’s tails flapping in the breeze, his hat firmly clamped upon his head; he knows how to use the style of silent film to his advantage, creating a sense of some energy and emotion. When his character emerges through the screen and comes onstage, however, he is dressed in a silly piece of glowing electronic headgear, and he has little to do but wander around with a frozen look of seriousness on his face, gathering balls and occasionally getting sucked into some sort of pit. Adams, dressed in a butterfly-decked frightwig and flowing gown, resembling early ’80s Cyndi Lauper, is effective as the silent film heroine.
John Burton’s production design is sleek, a multilevel set lit by glowing orbs of various sizes, including scaffolding, a tilted plane of grass and an overhanging luminous tree. The uncredited music score, combining pop and classical, is classy and generally more interesting than anything onstage, and Jeremy Pivnick’s low-key lighting works well in concert with it.
As co-directors, Schulman and Jane McEneaney are constricted by the nebulous nature of Schulman’s story, which clearly has deep meaning for its author that he isn’t able to convey to the audience. The initial emergence of Luminous from the screen is handled well, but the multiple returns back and forth subsequently mean nothing. Luminous is constantly buffeted around by some unknown force — which seems like a way to kill stage time more than any coherent plot.
All of this vague storytelling might be forgivable if the visual production was compelling on its own, but the few effective creative moments of inspiration aren’t enough to fill this full-length show.