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COMPANY OF ANGELS ~ Alexandria Hotel ~ Downtown LA

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Did I say surreal? Michelle Flowers in "Blackout." 

While waiting for a Black Box to be built for them at the Alexandria Hotel, the Company of Angels recently performed week 40 of Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 days/365 plays at the Gallery Space.

Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who I like to call the Nina Simone of theater because of the wide range of her testosterone-charged plays and her ability to riff on words, author of "Fuckin' A," "Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World" and "Top Dog/Underdog," committed to writing a play a day for a year. Since November of 2006, Los Angeles theater groups have jumped on the opportunity to perform one week each (7 plays) of the 365 works. Calling "plays" what is in the case of Week 40 seven "sketch comedies" is stretching it more than a little bit. However, Parks is such a provocative and compelling writer that even the shortest skits are at the very least intriguing if not satisfying.

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Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and director Armando Molina.

The gift Parks gave to the Company of Angels is a text so abstract directors Armando Molina, Kila Katu and Tony Gatto had nothing to rely on but the sheer power of their imagination. With the help of an outstanding cast, the trio succeeded in bringing out the humanity in the seven surreal tales of Vase Women and Skeinsters and proved themselves masters at translating Park's wit, sense of style and depth for the stage. As an additional treat, dressed in a raven black dress, electrifying Chanteuse Tina Sanchez, acting as emcee or Angel of Death, tied together the seven unrelated stories with sinuous moves and an almighty voice.

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Tina Sanchez.

The cast of actors was top-notch and made full use of their gift for physical comedy. Even when Parks went for an easy caricature of Los Angeles - dubbed in the sketch "Back in L.A." as "a land of Limited Ability" - the terrific comedians playing a celebrity-obssessed Earthling (Art McDermott) who helps a Spaceling get back to Mars (Hanny Landau,) reach beyond stereotypes to find the vulnerable in all of us. Landau was hilarious in her failed attemps at taking off.

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Spaceling Procrastinator Hanny Landau and Art McDermott.

"Blackout" is both cryptic and mesmerizing.  A single flashlight pointed at the performer from the audience created the surreal world of the manic character called Blackout Voice (Michelle Flowers making the most of being cast in a male role.) Flowers moved like a disabled puppet vainly trying to stand up on its own two feet without its master. When he doesn't rant against Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Blackout Voice called for Black Power like an Energizer Bunny at the end of its life shifting from excess of energy to complete loss of it without ever finding a solid middle ground.

In the absurd "A Yarn From the Skein of (Un)Happiness," backed by a cast of zany characters playing with a HAPPINESS sign (Sachiko Hayashi and Flor de Maria Chahua clearly having fun,) a sassy mother (the alluring Lee Sherman) brags about her family's claim to bliss when they are suddenly interrupted by The Other Woman (Sonora Chase.) Amy Patrice deserves a special mention for her hysterical demented facial and body contortions in the bizarre role of the Skeinster.

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Tina Sanchez (far left,) Sonora Chase, Flor de Maria Chahua and Lee Sherman.

Each of the seven skits show off Suzan Lori Parks' creative power but often end too abruptly, and in most cases the complex tales are just too short to grasp and not fully realized. The result is a show that, if not for the undeniable talent of the cast and directors, would be quickly forgotten. Also part of the cast but not pictured in this story were Michael Danyleiko, Jill Czarnowski, Jamie Silberhertz, Sachiko Hayashi and Amy Patrice. The evening's ultimate gratification came from discovering the Company of Angels. With a mission statement to "reflect and respond to the richness, diversity and complexity that is our city", we at Taco look forward to these heavenly beings' next productions.

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Karen Anzoategui, Michelle Flowers, Flor de Maria Chahua, Paul Jerome.

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Directors Armando Molina and Kila Kitu.

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Cast member Nurit Siegel and producer Dolores Chavez.

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