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The Medicine Show: L.A. Weekly "Pick of the Week"

Talk about transporting. From the parking lot of Coldwater Canyon Park, guides with flashlights lead the audience down a dusty trail to the rustic stage and audience bleachers. (Towels are provided to clear condensation from the seats.) On the night I attended, a shroud of fog was pierced by a quarter moon. A 19th century, top-hatted, bespectacled Driver (writer-director Stephen Legawiec) sits at a work-bench, crooning ditties in front of a billboard that advertises a performance of The Birds, a "Navajo Indian story culminating in a festive dance." But there’s no show, Driver explains. The actors are all backstage, dying from a strange malady. A French-speaking prop girl (Alyssa Lupo) appears, as Driver shows us a puppet he’s building, which represents a wandering boy who can’t sleep from being tormented by demons. "Maybe he’ll carry a lantern," Driver ponders, just as we see a lantern on a distant hill carried by a Boy (Ogie Zulueta), who passes behind the billboard and onto the stage, and in sign language begs the prop girl for some food. Indeed, gibberish-speaking, choreographed masked spirits torment him, accompanied by haunting a cappella chorals, culminating in the Navajo Dance of the Birds – all within an hour. Legawiec, among the most idiosyncratically visionary directors we have, picks up where he left off with his The Cure, offering a partly invented, partly researched anthropological theater that’s as memorable for its winking wit and raw beauty as for its mesmerizing power. Leave logic at home. The Medicine Show speaks in truths that are part tribal, part Jungian. Miss it at your cost."

- Steven Leigh Morris, © LA Weekly, October 22-28, 1999

 


The Medicine Show: Los Angeles Times

‘Medicine’: Old West Meets the New Age

The adventure gets underway well before the start of Ziggurat Theatre’s "The Medicine Show," an environmental staging that weaves Old West frontier heritage with Navajo mythology at Coldwater Canyon Park.

Pushing the theatrical envelope toward a more complete immersion in the exploration of cultural wellsprings is the continuing goal of Ziggurat artistic director Stephen Legawiec. Here, the assembled audience is escorted en masse by flashlight-bearing guides down a rustic trail – not a strenuous trek, but far enough to sever us from the context of contemporary civilization.

Arriving at a footlit encampment where a lonely wagon hawking "Miracle Tonic" looms in the background (seating is provided in a sole concession to creature comfort), we’re informed by the rugged wagon driver-narrator (Legawiec) that the performance is off because of a mysterious illness the troupe has contracted. After a brief confessional about duping settlers with bogus elixirs, he turns to the Indian lore and rituals that draw crowds – and one particular resurrection myth about a young warrior battling evil spirits.

This intro slyly sets the stage for the legend itself to spring to life, as a starving stranger (Ogie Zulueta) staggers into the camp, seeking aid from a French-speaking servant girl (Alyssa Lupo). As he falls into a fevered delirium haunted by shrouded, masked demons (Tess Borden, Ben Gonio, Tonilyn Hornung, Constance Hsu, Beverly Sotelo and Mario J. Yates), what transpires is an archetypal descent enacted through an ingenious mix of dance, ritual, and commedia. The visually arresting results are presented with a clarity that renders dialogue unnecessary.

Great fun, but dress for the mountain climate and terrain (heels are a bad idea)."

Philip Brandes, © Los Angeles Times, October 15,1999

 
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