Prolific British playwright Simon Stephens goes avant-garde in Carmen Disruption, meaning that no matter how much you may have loved the edgy realism of Punk Rock or the captivating whimsy of Heisenberg or the utter magic of his stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, you may well find his artsy 2015 take on Bizet a good deal less engaging.

For one thing, though four of its five characters have names familiar to opera aficionados and the fifth not only looks the spitting image of Bizet’s gypsy temptress but sings his seductive “L’amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle” with legit mezzo chops, they exist in such separate worlds that any hope of interaction (or plot for that matter) had best be left at the door.

In a series of monologs that go on for two intermissionless hours, Carmen, Don José, Micaela, Escamillo, and The Singer recount their mostly tedious separate lives, and it doesn’t help that Carmen Disruption’s City Garage U.S. Premiere adds at least twenty minutes to the London original’s running time.

Simon reimagines Carmen (Anthony Sannazzaro) as a ready-for-the-runway rent boy with a taste for Hugo Boss, Pierre Cardin, and anonymous sex for oodles of Euros (that is if the extra three-hundred he gets offered to bareback is any indication of the going rate).

Don José (Sandy Mansson) gender-bends from bull-fighter to butch lady taxi driver assigned a “job” by “a man I’m in debt to for reasons I will never tell you” but pining for a son she abandoned eight years before.

University student Micaela (Lindsay Plake) has just been dumped by her married, sixty-three-year-old college prof “boyfriend,” either because a) her friend was better at sucking his cock or b) she never stopped crying after they had sex or c) she talked for hours about death after her grandmother kicked the bucket or d) or e), you take your pick.

Futures trader Escamillo (David E. Frank) has been given less than a week to repay a couple hundred million embezzled dollars or else … well, you know how folks are likely to react when their pension funds get “borrowed” without their knowledge.

And throughout it all, clad in a low-cut, curve-clinging red dress and black bustier she has worn “a hundred times” in “a hundred cities,” The Singer (Kimshelley Lessard) comments on her career, life in general, and a quartet of characters who remain strangers pretty much till the end.

Despite a talent for language even the disjointed Carmen Disruption makes clear, only Stephens’s title character compelled me, thanks largely to Sannazzaro’s sleek, sexy, cocky, at times heartbreaking performance, and never more so than in a scene of devastating consequences for the young hustler.

I found myself considerably less invested in the vapid Micaela or the full-of-himself Escamilo, and in the case of Don Jose, some halting line-readings made it harder still to care about the dour cab driver.

The Singer at least gets to sing, and Bedfordshire-born Lessard not only does that quite exquisitely, she acts the part with so much fire and ice, Bizet’s heroine would approve.

At the very least, the latest from City Garage shows off its artistic director Frédérique Michel’s gift for taking a stage-directionless script and giving it visual flair throughout, along with some neat added touches like rhythmic in-unison foot-tapping and whispered underscoring.

Director Michel is aided considerably by City Garage managing director Charles Duncombe’s visually interesting multilevel platformed set, his dramatic lighting, and a scene-setting projection; by Josephine Poinsot’s character-defining costumes; and by Paul Rubenstein’s expert sound design.

Trace Taylor is assistant director. Additional program credits are shared by Kent Altman (light, audio, and video operator) and Sannazzaro (video editing).

The three Simon Stephens plays I’ve seen these past four months have had me singing his praises both aloud and in print. Had Carmen Disruption been my introduction to his work, I might not have opted for more.

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City Garage, Building T1, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica.

–Steven Stanley
September 8, 2017
Photos: Paul Rubenstein


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