Playwright Michael Vukadinovich takes a half dozen or so Biblical characters and stands them on their ear in his lyrical, fantastical new play A Giant Arc In The Skyspace Of Directions Or The Story Of Miracles. 

With a title like that, and dramatis personae who spout lines like “My mother was in labor for 136 days before I was finally born” and “I am sorry that I am not sorry for taking the blame for the passed gas and being hit in the testicles” and “I lived there for years and years with my little green wife, I only a child, floating on a calm sea,” A Giant Arc could easily have turned into a pretentious mess in the hands of a less talented playwright.  

Fortunately, this is not the case. Directed with supreme imagination by Efrain Schunior, performed by an oh-so-talented cast, and brought with ingenuity and whimsy to visual/auditory life by Schunior’s resident design team, Vukadinovich’s allegorical comedy is a delight from start to finish, and pretty darn moving to boot.

Kevin Broberg is Abe, an inventor of gadgets like the “most far advanced sexual excitation device yet. I call it the Tumult.”  Coco Kleppinger is his wife Sarah, who longs to conceive a child but has just been told by a certain Dr. Joykill that (to quote Abe), she’s “as sterile as a cow.” Ryan Bergmann is Eamon, a man who has given up the priesthood because “I am tired of others. Of their needs,” and who might just prove the solution to Abe and Sarah’s dilemma.  Dee Amerio Sudik is Rebecca, a blind woman whose “seeing eye bitch” had her eyes pulled out by an unknown prankster, with the result that “the poor bitch kept leading her into walls.”  Eric Martig is Rebecca’s son Jacob, a soldier who has returned to his mother’s side in the hairy-armed guise of the twin brother he killed “over a meal.”

These five characters come together in a world in which “there were only two clocks in the entire land, and they never kept the exact same time, so that nobody ever knew how much time had passed when they were asleep, or if any time had passed at all.”

I’m not sure I “got” even a portion of the deeper meanings of A Giant Arc, but with Vukadinovich’s unorthodox sense of humor, there are laughs aplenty, and with the rich, textured performances of the play’s five leads, there are moments when A Giant Arc truly touches the heart.

Kleppinger, the radiant star of Adeline’s Play and In The Company Of Jane Doe, brings depth and an aching beauty to the role of Sarah.  As defrocked priest Aemon, a sensational Bergmann has a quirky allure and high lovability quotient.  Broberg, a terrific Abe, takes his salt-of-the-earth character and invests him with layers of warmth and amiability. A particularly effective Martig lets us glimpse the doubts and confusions beneath Jacob’s macho warrior veneer.  A powerful Sudik reveals lifetimes of wisdom and good humor as the blind, philosophical Rebecca.  All five actors possess just the right blend of the serious and the tongue-in-cheek to make Vukadinovich’s words all the more real (and funny).  A trio of cute child performers (E.J. Garcia, Natalie Lopez, and Kaitlin Morgan) play Little Abe, Green Woman, and French Scientist, as well as introducing the play’s 12 chapters.

Having read Vukadinovich’s play before seeing it staged, I am all the more impressed with Schunior’s directorial vision and the way he has brought the playwright’s words and ideas to inspired fruition. It would have been easy for a lesser director to allow his actors to go over the top or play it deadly serious, but Schunior has helped them find the happy medium, aided and abetted by one of the most creative design teams in town.

Marika Stephens’ scenic design combines the whimsical imagery of children’s book illustrations with the surreal quality she brought to In The Company Of Jane Doe, all to spectacular effect, especially as spiced up by Sohail e. Jajafi’s vivid lighting design. Priscilla Watson’s costumes are delightfully fanciful as are Jim Sudik’s props, particularly the aforementioned “Tumult.”   Possibly best of all is Michael Cooper’s imaginative sound design and idiosyncratic original music, which inspires the cast’s deliciously odd contortions during scene changes, and which sets the show’s quirky tone to perfection. Daniel Guernsey is assistant lighting designer, Lucas Lilieholm is puppet and projection designer, and Sasha Sobolevsky serves as stage manager.

If ever a show cried out for a talk-back after each performance, it’s A Giant Arc In The Skyspace Of Directions Or The Story Of Miracles.  It would be fascinating and illuminating to hear the audience pick the actors’, director’s and writer’s brains about just what the whole thing means.  Even not understanding a lot of what Vukadinovich was going for, I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed his play.  It’s certainly different … in the best sort of way.

Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble, The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica. 

–Steven Stanley
March 18. 2010

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