Ubu the Shit!
Alfred Jarry’s 111-year-old play Ubu Roi scandalized French theatergoers as nothing ever had before, beginning with the single word “Merdre!” as it attacked European philosophies and all that theatrical literature held dear. Its debut performance in 1896 at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre caused a near riot that forced the production to open and close that one night, only to quietly resurface underground later at a humble puppet theatre hidden in the red-light district of Montmartre.
The groundbreaking piece has since only occasionally been lifted from obscurity, but is still considered by most scholars to be the precursor, some 50 years later, to the Theatre of the Absurd movement, as well as Dada and Surrealism. Without Ubu Roi, there might not ever have been a Samuel Beckett or Eugene Ionesco or Vaclav Havel or even an Edward Albee.
The once shocking story of the gluttonous Ubu and his sexually insatiable wife is ideal fodder for intrepid and brashly idealistic young artists such as recent Cal State Long Beach graduate Jeremy Aluma, who believes Jarry’s play is even more relevant today, an era when, in his words, “everyone wants to buy more, eat better, and shit more pleasantly.”
In his inaugural non-scholastic effort as producer/director, Aluma has rechristened the play Ubu the Shit! and shrewdly commandeered an über-talented troupe of current CSULB theatre department performance majors to bring his delightfully skewed vision of the overlooked classic crashing into glorious new life at the Complex, a quintessential LA destination to try out new things on a small budget.
Beginning with an impressive and suitably decibel-challenged club mix featuring everything from gypsy accordion music to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” to rap to Kurt Cobain wailing “Rape Me,” the play’s segmented 19 short scenes provide a perfect opportunity for all nine of Aluma’s decidedly game human chessboard pieces to each alternately assume the roles of the monstrous Pa Ubu and the wife he repeatedly schtupps with the enormous green foam phallus he proudly displays—and of course lovingly strokes at every opportunity.
Performed with austere simplicity on a basically blank stage dominated by the King’s golden throne (a toilet, of course), these spirited and obviously fearless young actors are clearly having the time of their lives, screaming and shouting an abundance of quite contemporary four-letter words while showing off their considerable and presumably recently acquired skills as performance artists.
Not all of these newbies are uniformly capable to be here yet, but there are several standouts, particularly the rubber-faced, loose-limbed Lis Roche as Ubu’s nemesis Bougrelas and Kevin Klein, a valiant and seemingly limitless comedian who either has had a heap of dance training—or should get some tout de suite, as he has considerable natural instincts for mime and movement.
Of all these determined performers, the smallest participant casts the biggest shadow here, as Anthony Cretara, both while playing a raucous Ubu or alternating as the fluttery Queen Rosemonde, “gets” it like no one else on this stage, exploding boldly and confidently into commedia dell’arte style with consummate skill and a wonderful sense of humor. Aluma seems to understand this is the guy to feature when he needs the most focus to his production, even giving Cretara the one opportunity to hilariously crescendo to onstage orgasm as the insatiably randy King U.
In general, there may be a few misses in Aluma’s ambitious Ubu the Shit!, but none that aren’t easily overpowered by the pluses which, as with Jarry’s original work, portend remarkable things to come from these exceptionally gifted young theatre artists.
I tell ya, Zombie Joe would love this Shit!
Ubu the Shit! plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and 10pm through Aug. 4 at the Complex’s Dorie Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Bl., Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.960.4484.