L.A. WEEKLY Pick of the Week
Cool Cats and Hot Actors
Act 1 of the Burglars of Hamm's hilarious and thought provoking
comedy, Land of the Tigers, outlandishly crosses Cats with
Planet of the Apes. In a whimsical world where felines walk
upright and speak English (but thankfully don't caterwaul
"Memory") a veritable Kingdom of Tigers prance around in feathered
wigs and top coats, while debating important matters (to cats,
anyway) in the Tigressional Congress. Amongst this group, the
great warrior Sabertooth (Hugo Armstrong) goes into lustful cat
heat for sultry she-tiger Sheba (Devin Sidell), which outrages
Sheba's fierce brother Fang Stalkington (Tim Sheridan), who has
already fathered several litters with the young beauty (remember,
this is the Tiger World, we're talking about). Full of bizarre cat
mating dances, and scenes in which characters shift instantly from
conversing into snarling Tiger-style, the Burglars' comedy is
staged by Matt Almos with acrobatic dexterity, a tongue-in-cheek
tone, and perfect comic timing. The reasons for slight touches of
campiness become evident in Act Two, however, which follows the
cast of dimwitted and absurdly self important actors as they are
increasingly brainwashed by their tyrannical, ego tripping
director (a fabulous Dean Gregory, whose eyes glitter with
madness). Although the concept possesses slight echoes of
Noises Off, the Burglars cunningly explore a totally different
avenue, elegantly satirizing the sense of collective delusion that
frequently befalls performers in a mediocre show. The acting work
is particularly sprightly, and it's delightful how the bumbling
tiger actors of Act 1 are subsequently revealed as the optimistic,
dedicated, yet benighted ensemble of Act 2. The end result, more
than calculatedly dippy comedy about cats, is an often compelling
meditation on the creation of theater itself, and how the audience
will never glimpse the many dramas within a play's production.
© 2009 L.A.
What if tigers suddenly began walking on
their hind legs, started speaking English and formed a democratic
society? Small-minded realists might demand an explanation for such a
premise, but the contrarian Burglars of Hamm blithely take it as a given
from the outset in "Land of the Tigers" at Sacred Fools Theatre.
and consistently entertaining, the troupe's latest collaborative
creation is really two anti-plays in one, each balancing camp and
artistry in Matt Almos' deft staging. The first, a hilariously
ridiculous and pretentious allegorical drama built on the aforementioned
conceit, presents a skillful parody of the kind of theatrical
productions that result from the over-earnest pursuit of a conceptual
In this narrative love
child of "Planet of the Apes" and "The Crucible," the heroic Sabertooth
(Hugo Armstrong) finds himself torn between duty to his strictly
regulated tiger society and his forbidden love for fertile feline Sheba
(Devin Sidell). Forced to choose between "a civilized lie and a savage
truth," Sabertooth's journey encompasses a full range of topical
platitudes, including heavy-handed warnings about the perils of ignoring
climate change and invoking terrorist hysteria.
makeup and parading in tricornered hats, powdered wigs and frock coats,
the performers wittily evoke this alternate universe with single-minded
determination. Even when the material occasionally grows thin and
repetitive, they deliver the most inane lines with Shakespearean
gravitas. (Tim Sheridan's dastardly villain and Shelly Kurtz's bumbling
professor are supporting standouts in this regard.)
The second act, an
equally skillful parody of the creative process, travels back in time to
trace the origins of the play we've just witnessed. The hilariously
ridiculous and pretentious actors who portray the tigers discover their
characters -- and some unwelcome truths about themselves -- under the
tyranny of an egomaniacal director (pitch-perfect Dean Gregory). As
their endless confessional workshop exercises increasingly exasperate
the play's would-be author (Cody Henderson), the Burglars weave some
unexpectedly poignant insights into the backstage dramas that drive even
the most misguided efforts.
© 2009 L.A.
BACKSTAGE Critic's Pick
Sure, some may call it the worst theatrical
debacle to be written, staged, or even conceived. But the masses who
will inevitably label Land of the Tigers as a Titanic-scale
creative disaster are clearly shortsighted. And what is the sign of true
genius but critical controversy? Well, that and the sight of bipedal
tigers wearing wigs, celebrating newsletter content, and cowering from
marauding hordes of swans.
The inspired members of Burglars of Hamm have pulled out all their
visionary stops to tell the tale of a band of tigers whose civilization
is torn apart by their self-made trappings. At the center of this
inspired lesson for the ages is Sabertooth (a masterful Hugo Armstrong),
a rebel who reconnects to his animal instincts after he meets the lovely
Sheba (Devin Sidell) and clashes with her evil brother Fang Stalkington
(Tim Sheridan). However, this is no mere cat-spray love story. The
Burglars (Carolyn Almos, Matt Almos, Jon Beauregard, and Albert Dayan—four
minds truly capable of high-stakes boggling) have laid out a mythical,
metaphorical journey that leaves no cautionary stone unturned as the
tigers touch upon each and every theme that could, maybe, possibly, be
relevant. With a detailed, Chuck Mangione sensitivity, Matt Almos
directs the ensemble (Larry Biederman, Corey Klemow, JJ Mayes, Ruth
Silveira, Rebecca Metz, and Shelly Kurtz), each performer brilliantly
inhabiting his or her colorful character. And when it comes to creating
the distinctive world of Stripey McProwl, Salty Lickylegs, and Minx
Furburger, a deep and graceful bow must go to costumer and makeup
designer Ann Closs-Farley, as well as to set designer Donna Marquet and
lighting designer Chris Wojcieszyn.
When Act 2 of Land of the Tigers takes us behind the scenes --
the making of a masterpiece, as it were -- audiences may feel
momentarily betrayed. But as much as we want to hold on to the magic,
what is revealed about the creative process and group dynamics gives us
so much more. With the addition of cast members Cody Henderson and Dean
Gregory, we finally get the clarity we didn't even know we were missing.
Sure, there are those who may accuse the artists involved of pandering
to the tyranny of storytelling. But with its very particular
perspective, this production is able to reframe an onstage pander to
© 2009 Backstage
L.A. Stage Watch
Tigers Tigers Burning Bright
The terrific Land of the Tigers first opened at Sacred Fools
Theater last March 27. That same day, LA CityBeat folded without
warning, ending the theater column I wrote for that newspaper and its
web site. I saw Tigers the next day, but I had no place to
publicly express my enthusiasm for it.
Problem solved. Land of the Tigers re-opened at the Lost
Studio last Friday. And my new blog, LA Stage Watch, started this week.
Tigers, another cockeyed creation from the Burglars of Hamm
(Carolyn Almos, Matt Almos, Jon Beauregard, Albert Dayan), has two very
different but related acts.
The first act is a mock-stagy fable about romance and rivalries
within a tribe of anthropomorphized tigers who are threatened by global
cooling — a Metaphor for global warming. The second act depicts the
process that supposedly created the first act, as the eager acolytes who
belong to a small-theater ensemble try to find their inner tigers - in
present-day Los Angeles.
Land of the Tigers could be Exhibit A in
argument I made a few days ago that all theater is local. This is a
show that both honors and skewers L.A. theater artists - people who are
much like the creators and performers of Tigers itself.
Its most specific target audience is almost identical to that of
LAStageBlog. That’s not to say that others won’t like it - many people
who aren’t dedicated to theater would find it funny and even moving. But
for anyone who’s reading this, it’s time to take the Tiger by
the tail and get over to the Lost Studio.
You shouldn’t miss Hugo Armstrong’s Ovation Award-nominated,
double-barreled performance, first as the dashing rebel Sabretooth, then
as a doofus-like would-be actor. Cody Henderson and Dean Gregory nail
the primary antagonists of the second act - the former as a would-be
playwright and the latter as a lean, mean acting guru.
Maybe it helps that Henderson is indeed a playwright and that
Gregory, according to his program bio, “dedicates his performance to the
big cats at the Wildlife Waystation, whose power and beauty guide him to
know who he is.” An inside joke lurks inside that line, waiting to
pounce when you see the play. Let’s just say that Gregory, playing a
man, is more like a tiger than are the first act’s “tigers” who emulate
Matt Almos’ staging is replete with such small ironies, as well as
bigger laughs and surprisingly melancholic moments, especially in the
second act. You might have to bear with a few moments of the first act
until you figure out why it behaves the way it does, but the rewards are
worth the momentary head-scratching.
With Tigers joining such previous Burglars productions as
Resa Fantastiskt Mystisk, Easy Targets and Focus
Today, the Hammsters are up there with the better-known Troubies
and Culture Clash as L.A.’s masters of long-form theatrical satire.
The Burglars’ topics might seem more insular than those of the other
groups. But not always - in the first act of Tigers, the ho-hum
reaction of the big cats’ governing council to evidence of “global
cooling” uncannily resembles the inaction of Senate Republicans who
boycotted hearings on the global warming bill last week.
When these Burglars case the joint, hidden satirical gems virtually
jump out of the safe.
L.A. Stage Watch
A year and a half later, Don
brought up "Tigers" again...
SPEAKING OF CTG’s PLAY DEVELOPMENT
PROGRAM, as I was a few paragraphs ago – CTG has commissioned a
piece from LA’s own Burglars of Hamm (whose most recent triumph
was Land of the Tigers at Sacred Fools and then at the Lost
Studio in 2009).
And, in an apparently unrelated piece of news, CTG also is
presenting the Rude Mechanicals of Austin as part of the
DouglasPlus series and the RADAR LA Festival, at the Douglas in
That June slot is an enviable gig, because it also will coincide
with the Theatre Communications Group’s national conference, here
in LA. So a show at the Douglas might be attended by many of the
bigwigs of American non-profit theater.
The Rude Mechanicals’ LA-bound production, The Method Gun,
is about an acting ensemble. For that matter, so was Land of
the Tigers from the Burglars of Hamm.
Did anyone consider asking the Burglars to re-create their Land
of the Tigers on the Douglas stage, possibly during that same
June period of intense scrutiny of LA theater, possibly in
addition to the Rude Mechanicals production? Although I haven’t
seen the Mechanicals’ production, perhaps the two productions
could bounce off each other beautifully, and with so many theater
professionals in town, the audience would probably be
theater-savvy enough to get the jokes.
In addition to providing potentially national exposure to one of
LA small theater’s best productions of recent years, inviting the
Burglars to stage their already acclaimed Tigers could also
revive CTG’s seemingly dormant program of offering the Douglas
stage to smaller LA groups.
L.A. Stage Watch