If you are interested in a play about the turbulent life of poet T.S. Eliot, look no further than the Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s World Premiere of Don Nigro’s “Waste Land” running at
studio/stage in Los Angeles through May 6th.
The tragi-comedy concerns Eliot’s tumultuous and tragic relationship with first wife and muse Vivienne and the slippery rabbit hole it takes him down.
The language here soars like an uncaged eagle. The syllables fly like unchained melodies.
The playwright’s grasp of each character’s separate identity is deep, daunting and different.
As one of the most frequently published and widely produced playwrights in the world, Nigro is an expert in rhythm, syntax and metaphor.
The beauty of the tragic valley surpassed only by the loveliness of the comedic mountains.
The peaks Nigro scales here are uncommon and unheard of.
They take us, the audience, through the desert to the oasis and back again.
The substance, purpose and style point out the rich tapestry of Eliot’s poetry, especially “The Waste Land”, the masterwork whose writing and heartbreak are at the center of this bold artistic
The Eastern Ohio playwright’s words also define the modernist movement which presents moments of real life touched by fantasy.
Along the way Eliot is helped by such literary giants as Ezra Pound, Bertrand Russell, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.
This multi-layered character study eschews compromise, conformity and convention for storytelling of the highest order which is truly outside of the box and soul sent.
The tables, chairs, plastic and multi-colored mannequins dotting the stage are part of a plot that stresses the meaning of art through the descent into madness and ascent into genius.
The idea that insanity leads to better art is a conundrum that this play confronts head on.
And dance with it, it does. First lightly like a Foxtrot, then more heavily like a Tango, and finally in a disco as the main plank of this magnum opus of a show.
Director Steve Jarrard understands Nigro’s words with a sensitivity, comprehension and depth bordering on the superhuman.
The company’s Managing Director walks a fine line between reality and flights of fancy.
The Southern California native maintains the balance beautifully as the actors weave together snippets from the lives of these literary masters with lines from Eliot’s poetry.
It is as if the actors were present when the words were spoken or the material written.
Jarrard allows the thespians to be themselves by not standing in their way.
The poet, prop-man and actor is a shining meteor and rising star on his way to helming more serious and important work in Los Angeles and beyond.
The director of many of the company’s productions in the past assembles a gifted cast in sync with Nigro’s fragrant, fanciful and formidable language.
Stand outs include:
Meg Wallace (Vivienne) whose turn as T. S. Eliot’s first wife and muse adds to the deeply impressive legacy she has built as a performer with Collaborative Artists Ensemble.over the years.
The portrayal is a combination of brassiness and brilliance as she allows us into her garden to smell the tulips and roses.
The New York-trained actress’ transparency and tenderness come full circle as her flirtation with madness goes from secure sanity to salient sobriety.
The founding member of Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s range and grasp of reality is such that she pulls it off believably and gracefully.
The Marymount Manhattan College graduate is certainly an artist to be reckoned with.
Almost stealing the show is Bartholomeus De Meirsman (Ezra Pound) whose confident, eccentric and bountiful characterization seemingly has no limits.
The Belgian native and former Playhouse West Meisner technique veteran never puts the brakes on the very flawed, but human, Pound.
And we are the better for it.
The character’s sincerity, ribaldry and energy give the play even more hilarity, hindsight and humanity than it already has.
But it is John Ogden (Bertie Russell, W.L. Janes) who runs away with the play by giving a no-holds-barred performance that takes advantage of imagination, instinct and intellect enough to change the course of this theatrical river.
The Columbia University MA in English Literature does not run away from any line or moment in the script.
On the contrary, Ogden is fearless and frank in genuinely perfecting his craft.
The precision, presence, passion and power the 23 year veteran Los Angeles High School teacher displays add a uniqueness and wit to the proceedings.
Motivated by wisdom and intelligence, each sound, scat and swat finds its particular niche in time.
The grandfather of three proves unrelenting in his assault on the human race and its literary foibles.
That is why his character is such a joy and pleasure to behold.
This critic hopes to see the Artistic Director of The Rimpau Players on the stages of The City of Angels again very soon.
All in all, “Waste Land” succeeds because of its connection to the famous literary figures it underscores, not despite it.
This play is a landmark theatrical achievement for Los Angeles and the West Coast.
It proves that art is fashioned in fragments that color the whole.
It also underlines the dichotomy between the idea of God as an opiate of the masses and a true spiritual and religious savior.
Showing that often the most meaningful work is created at the most stressful, anxious and troubling of times, not the calmest and easiest, “Waste Land” will be talked about for years to come for its determination, dignity and drive.
Nigro and Jarrard team up for an unforgettable, electric and achingly seamless experience.
This is an evening when not only the past comes alive, but the very framework of creativity and expression is born.
The harrowing and oft controversial landscape of greatness is on display here, and Collaborative Artists Ensemble once more proves not only that it is up to the challenge, but that it ranks as one of the most emotionally naked, flexible
and innovative acting ensembles in the city, if not the country.
See this play for its sheer honesty, thoughtful clarity and spiritual purity.
What more is there, really.
By Radomir Vojtech Luza
Theatre and Book Critic
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m.
General Admission: $20
Information and Reservation:
520 N. Western Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Review of Collaborative Artists Ensemble’s Production of The World Premiere of Don Nigro’s WASTELAND May 27th, 2019Radomir Vojtech Luza