The Temptation of St. Antony
Reviewed by Vanessa Cate
Extended through October 9
I’m not quite sure what a “junkyard opera” is but, as their mission declares, Four Larks has made one! In fact, their 2015 production of The Temptation of St. Antony garnered such a positive reaction (including from Stage Raw, as evidenced by several S.R. award nominations and one win for best sound) that they decided to bring it back. The show is much the same, still held in a mysterious location with the same haunting motif, but with minor casting changes and an additional ten minutes of material.
From the get-go the evening is a welcoming delight, from the top secret location disclosed via email to the suggested mystical caravan wear audiences are encouraged to don. The space is an art installation in itself, and spending time inside it before the show is an important part of the evening (so I strongly urge you to show up early). I dare not go too deeply into details, because the discovery is so much of the charm. But I can’t help but mention the intimate and immersive entrance through a tunnel fabricated from the pages of countless books.
But on to the play itself, because all of the above is only preamble.
In the 1800’s, Gustave Flaubert spent decades writing what he considered his masterpiece, La Tentation de Saint Antoine, or The Temptation of Saint Anthony, based on the famous Saint Anthony (c. 251 – 356 AD) who retreated to an Egyptian cavern for prayer and contemplation, believing isolation to be the truest form of worship. The text is poetic and sprawling, and explores the epic temptations – both Biblical and subconscious — that visited him one fateful night.
Adapter/director Mat Diafos Sweeney has taken Flaubert’s work and shaped it into a modern epic odyssey. Embellished with Sebastian Peters-Lazaro’s exquisite choreography, the show transports us into a theological fever dream, which explores Christianity, religion worldwide, humankind, yearning, weakness and devotion.
The ensemble is incredible: They work together with grace and trust, and seem to appear from the shadows and alter form with supernatural ease. Max Baumgarten’s turn as the tormented hermit is the haunting anchor of the evening.
Sebastian Peters-Lazaro & Regan Baumgarten’s production design, while much garnered from Craigslist, is impressive in its scope, its detail, and its cohesive vision.
Ellen Warkentine, Sweeney and Jesse Rasmussen have crafted a moving dreamlike score, which weaves through the hallucinatory evening seductively and with great beauty.
All in all, the evening is an incredibly intellectual and aesthetic one, and presents the audience with opportunities for both contemplation and temptation that rival any the title character underwent himself.
Four Larks at a secret location in downtown L.A.; Performances Thurs. – Sun. 8:30 p.m.; Extended through October 9; www.fourlarks.com. Running time: Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission