Whether you find The Tragedy, D.G. Watson’s twisty-turny tale of three young Hollywood talent managers in search of the stroke of genius that will save their floundering business a piece of theatrical brilliance or a hallucinogenic hot mess may depend on how many shrooms you’ve consumed before lights-up. In either case, this often outrageously funny Ammunition Theatre Company World Premiere is like nothing else now playing on L.A. theater stages.

Meet Larry Stone (Malcolm Barrett, NBC’s Timeless), co-owner of New Talent Management, attempting in vain to sell a Hollywood bigwig on Buddy Scott (Kim Hamilton), the floundering firm’s sole remaining client. (“She’s hot, she’s fire, she’s lava, she’s buffalo wings,” so “now is literally the best time to hire her because no one else wants to book her.”)

Things had once looked promising for Larry and partners Lisa Connor (Tina Huang, TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles) and Derek Stahl (Brandon Scott, Showtime’s Guerrilla), but that was back when aspiring actor Ethan Cross (Garrett Mercer) landed a four-picture deal with a superhero franchise, then dropped New Talent, withheld their commission, and “tweeted bad things” about the firm.

Now what Larry and Lisa and Derek need is a revised business strategy to return New Talent to its former (sort-of) glory days, though probably not Derek’s plan to “round up stone-cold warriors from all over the five boroughs” and pit them against armored chickens in the wrestling ring.

Fortunately for the threesome, Larry comes up with, if not the best idea ever, then at least one good enough for now (“We get high”), and thanks to the special deal that magic mushroom dealer Tony Ramirez (Roland Ruiz) gives them on the most powerful shroom in his stash, Larry, Lisa, and Derek are soon tripping (and so is Watson’s hitherto relatively straightforward TV-ready sitcom).

Larry’s speech turns inexplicably Shakespearean when he meets movie star Rebecca Reese (Julie Bersani), whose involvement with a mysterious cult bent on destroying Larry’s company has her attempting to hire his services as a hit man, while Lisa and Derek visit a now suicidal Tony for more shrooms and find in his apartment a script whose plot too closely resembles recent events for comfort.

Larry then shows up at an audience-interactive self-help seminar where Ethan (Night Warden to Rebecca’s Solar Girl) promises to teach attendees “how to be the superhero of your life” and makes Larry face an uncomfortable truth about his past.

Lisa and Derek, meanwhile, head out to meet forest-dwelling new age prophet Ezekiel (Jason Ryan Lovett), whose pearls of wisdom include “The trick is to focus on what is yours, as above, so below.”

Oh, and a couple of Ancient Greek sisters—Melpomene (Hamilton), Muse of Tragedy, and Thalia (understudy Karen Sours Albisua), Muse Of Comedy—show up along the way as well.

If all this sounds more than a bit “out there,” it is, and after having absolutely loved The Tragedy’s first twenty-five minutes or so, I found myself mostly hanging in there for the next forty, thanks mainly to a talented, charismatic cast who give Watson’s super-freaky script their all under Ahmed Best’s energizing direction.

Thankfully, things do perk up considerably during intermission (not a misprint), and though Watson seems at a loss as to how to end The Tragedy on a satisfying note, there’s enough in Act Two to get an audience back on board.

There can be absolutely no complaint about The Tragedy’s all-around terrific (and refreshingly racially diverse) cast, one that includes more than a few making-it-in-Hollywood names, or about Melissa Trn’s realistic-to-fanciful costumes, or Mark Kanieff’s psychedelic set and its shroom-trip-altered office furniture, or Masai Mitchell’s kaleidoscopic lighting, or Mischa Stanton’s mind-bending sound design.

Haley Kellogg is stage manager. Burl Moseley, Briana Marin, Chris Gardner, Malorie Felt, Johnny Tchaikovsky, and Alex Marshall Brown, are understudies.

Worth seeing as a showcase for some of L.A.’s hottest up-and-comers though rather too bizarre for this reviewer to give it an unreserved thumbs-up, The Tragedy (seemingly written—and perhaps best enjoyed—under the influence of Tony’s shrooms) is easily the trippiest show in town.

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Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 25, 2017


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