Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Moving Arts at Atwater Village Theatre
Through April 2
Terence Anthony’s Burners is a two-hander set in the dystopian future. The plot revolves around two people pitted against each other in a precarious war-torn world where a rebellious faction is attempting to overthrow an authoritarian state. Killer drones prowl the skies, and individuals called “burners” blow themselves up for their cause.
The setting (scenic and prop design, nicely detailed, by Glenn Michael Baker) is a cavernous room filled with old monitors, blinking switchboards and all sorts of electronic junk. Liv (Amielynn Abellera) a small, bold but anxious woman enters in search of Nix (Noel Arthur), a “runner” with a reputation for spiriting those in search of safety to a safe haven. Nix, always on the alert, pretends to be someone else and urges Liv to be on her way, but she convinces him to help her — that is, until he realizes she’s not who she says she is, but rather an enemy that needs to be taken down. He too turns out to be other than what he represents, which is germane to the play’s message about how people can stray from their own self-interest.
Directed by Sara Wagner, the remainder of this 75-minute one-act portrays the struggle between Liv and Nix, a lot of it physical (fight choreography by Ronnie Clark), and involving painful zapping with an electronic device and other forms of torture (mostly just threatened, fortunately). The dialogue is studded, somewhat pretentiously, with futuristic slang: for example, a “skid” is a person from a slum, a “spew” is a lie. To “cog” means to understand, to “scut” means to leave.
The production does feature some astute tech, especially its sound design (Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski) and makeup (Maira Gomez), as well as a solid performance by Arthur as a tough and cynical lone operative. But the setup and dialogue are generic sci-fi, and the imprecision in the political background story keeps the stakes low. Throughout, it’s hard not to think you’ve ambled into the middle of some old B-movie or stock sci-fi serial. The character of Liv is tasked with proving how tough she is, and Abellera, though she works hard, never ripens into a fully developed persona. Arthur gets off to a slow start, a perception stemming from the directorial decision to keep his face concealed. His performance immediately becomes more interesting when he comes into full view. He scores some real moments by the end, and would probably have done better with a stronger and less cryptic script.
It bears mention that the program does provide a glossary, as well as notes about the background story that help explain what’s going on. But the print on the latter, in white lettering, is difficult to read; this audience member only noticed it after the show was over. The glossary too, is only minimally helpful since, unlike with a novel or other text, you can’t refer to it while the play is going on.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater; Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m., Mon., 8 p.m., through April 2. Additional performance, Thurs., March 30 at 8 p.m. at www.movingarts.org or call 323-472-5646. Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.