Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Cornerstone Theatre Company at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
Through December 10
This Cornerstone Production of Magic Fruit, written by Michael John Garces and directed by Shishir Kurup, is a dystopian fantasy, loosely based (oddly enough) on Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It asks the question, along with several others: Can we produce enough food to feed Earth’s ever-growing population without destroying the planet?
The villain of the piece is a megacorporation called Sarastro, named for its founder. And there is another villain called Mondiablo (Peter Howard), who works for Sarastro, but tries to subvert it to satisfy his own greed. The plot hinges on the Queen of the Rain (Page Leong, in a spectacular silver costume that suggests old time Ziegfeld Follies), who corresponds to Mozart’s Queen of the Night. Like the latter, the Queen of the Rain is an ambiguous figure: she can be a benevolent force, bringing the nourishing and healing rains, or she can be malevolent, creating floods and other carnage. Somehow, the Queen of the Rain has quite literally lost her heart. A Latina woman and former drug-addict named Tami (Cristina Frias) must go on a quest to recover it. She is accompanied on the search by a bird-catcher called Pageni (Courage), patterned after Mozart’s Papageno. And like that character, he is associated with a flight of birds — represented by puppets created by Lynn Jeffries and Tima Lotah Link.
Meanwhile, the directors of Sarastro are having a meeting to discuss the fact that their commercial activities might bring about the end of the world. Although, as one of them says, “The market would suffer,” they are prepared to go on with their destructive dealings.
Tami and Pageni discover the Queen’s missing heart, personified by a young woman named Corazon (Bethany Nava) in a handsome blue and silver outfit. Mondiablo is out to kill her with a mysteriously illuminated dagger, but he is constantly thwarted. Tami and Pageni have further adventures, and wind up in Los Angeles’s desperate places, including among the homeless and addicted.
The Magic Flute is celebrated for its music and its characters and not for the clarity of its disorganized and improbable plot, so it’s not surprising that this show is sometimes murky in its plotting and logic. And it is a bit overlong. But its heart is in the right place, and it provides an impressive spectacle, courtesy of the set by Nephelie Adonyadis (complete with a small turntable at center stage), the costumes by Meghan E. Healey, which range from the glamorous to the grungy, and the striking video design by Sean Cawelti.
Like all Cornerstone productions, this piece was created as a community project, involving many civic organizations and ethnic groups. On this level, it succeeds admirably. And after all its warnings and admonitions, it concludes on a reassuring note: All seeds are magical in their ability to produce plants, and therefore all fruits are magic.
Cornerstone Theatre Company at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, 138 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles. Wed., Nov. 24, 29 & Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 30 & & Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m.; Fri. Nov. 24 & Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m., & Dec. 8, 8 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 25, Dec. 2 & 9, 8 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 25, Dec. 3 & 9, 3 p.m. http://cornerstonetheater.org. Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.