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'Margo Veil' Is One of The Best Plays of The Year

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Daniel Bess and Dorie Barton in "Margo Veil." Photo - Enci
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It shouldn't be a surprise that a new show by Evidence Room is excellent, considering the group's history. For more than a decade the troupe has been one of the most well-respected companies in Los Angeles, winning awards and garnering nominations by the score. Regardless of all this, I was surprised and delighted at how fantastic their new show (a co-production with Odyssey Theatre Ensemble), the West Coast premiere of Margo Veil, is. It's a demonstration of what happens when wild inspiration meets up with sheer craft, a palindromic fever dream of a production from a group that is clearly still at the top of its game. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Veil is more about the power of stories themselves than one overarching plot, with one tale effortlessly transitioning into another in a roundelay of creation. A group of people are sitting in a dark hotel lobby as explosions take place nearby, and the radio is turned on for distraction, presenting the noir-ish drama of Margo Veil (Dorie Barton). Margo's an actress on tour with a bad play, having a fling with the playwright, the cold Arthur Vine (Daniel Bess). Arthur's fond of using a service from Big Betty (Colleen Kane) that allows a person to transfer bodies, which he and Margo do. Margo inhabits a blind girl in Lithuania, Ruta (Brittany Slattery), and Arthur becomes the famed actor Edgar LeStrange (Tom Fitzpatrick), who loses his memory but remembers his most famous role--a poisoner. And did I mention the mysterious flying owl totem?

Veil is an true ensemble piece, and the unique nature of the plot, with all the body-shifting, not only allows every actor to shine but also allows most of them to be the lead for a while. Barton plays Margo with just the right degree of insouciant charm, as if the character knows she’s in a noir film or something equally unreal and thus isn’t overly worried about the consequences. Bess is memorable as the unfortunate magician Mortmain, employing a believable Eastern European accent and a certain gravitas that gains the audience’s sympathy. Kane applies comedic virtuosity to multiple roles, from the loud commands of brassy Big Betty to the spiel of a Cockney carnival barker.

Slattery displays versatility as the innocent Ruta and the prematurely jaded art student Roxanne, not to mention Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Jeremy Shranko does an impressive Bo Diddley dance as Betty’s doltish assistant Dwayne, and is a picture of sinister sophistication as the mimic Cardano. Don Oscar Smith is the picture of gentle concern as Ruta’s Grandfather, Liz Davies is sharp as the predatory Professor Ahriman, and Lauren Campedelli is appropriately confused as acting teacher Vivien, the umpteenth body transfer of Margo Veil. Tom Fitzpatrick, however, probably has the most fun, delivering perfectly wrought character turns, particularly as the egotistical LeStrange or in making booming biblical pronouncements as radio preacher Reverend Ford.

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Bart DeLorenzo’s direction is marvelously fluid, changing styles in a moment, and his command of theatrical tools is very much on display here. Every moment has been creatively conceived, from bigger things such as the ensemble providing funny but effective sound effects throughout or a lively dance where all the dancers die one by one, to the small but lovely detail of a jar of marmalade floating up into the falling Alice’s hand. I’ve thought DeLorenzo was probably the best director in L.A. for a while now—this tour de force proves it. Len Jenkin’s play is a fabulous recursive puzzle that celebrates the primacy of story with style and wit, and it’s found the ideal presenters in Evidence Room. Lap Chi Chu’s expert lighting creates and maintains an otherworldly vibe, while Ann Closs-Farley’s colorful costumes liven the stage. John Zalewski’s sound design is reminiscent of David Lynch’s ominous work, a wall of white noise in the background that provides a contrast to the generally more cheerful things happening in the foreground.

Margo Veil runs through July 31. Tickets are $25-30 and are available online or at (310) 477-2055.