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Theater Review (LA): My Uncle Arly by David Farmer and Shon Dale-Jones at the Freud Playhouse

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“O! my aged Uncle Arly” is the first line of a delightful nonsense poem written by Edward Lear, the famed Victorian limerick writer, poet, painter, and doodler. It is also the basis of a silly, in the best sense of the word, celebration of Lear’s work presented by the physical theater group Hoipolloi in collaboration with the children’s theater group Tiebreak.

Hoipolloi, an award-winning British troupe, is in town to present its work at U.C.L.A. Live and to work with students from the Virginia Avenue Project and Watts Tutorial, introducing them to the nonsense verse of Edward Lear and encouraging the students to write their own limericks and draw their own illustrations.

Five marvelous performers — Cassie Friend, Ben Frimston, Stephanie Muller, Andrew Pembrooke, and Trond-Erik Vassdal — presented My Uncle Arly by David Farmer and Shon Dale-Jones at the Freud Playhouse on March 28th to a gleeful audience of children, young adults, and adults. The story told the tale of Edward Lear as he embarks on a journey to France, Italy, and finally the imaginary land of Dong. Along the way he encounters some strange creatures both real and imagined. One of my favorites was the Pobble who had no legs and no toes. Another was the walking stick that transformed into an artist’s easel.

The French and Italians were wonderfully satirized, and the land of Dong had some amazing creatures. The journey on the train was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the piece, as Lear, traveling alone, is suddenly invaded by two couples who proceed to take over the space. Anyone who has ever traveled on a local train in Europe will readily identify with the crowding and confusion.

My Uncle Arly contains some very inventive clowning, as when the cast keeps falling over suitcases in the train station, and it has some songs as well. There are hilarious inventions, like the talking crates made by manipulating two crates one on top of the other. Add fun with hats, beards, curtains, nonsense verse, and acrobatic movement, and you have a show that delights both young and old. It shows what can be done with a little imagination, few props, little scenery, and an adventuresome cast.

Hoipolloi presented My Uncle Arly at U.C.L.A. Live on March 22.

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