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Theatre Review (LA): Zastrozzi by George F. Walker at the NoHo Arts Center

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The NoHo Arts Center has come up with a real winner with its newest endeavor, Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s Zastrozzi: Master Of Discipline. A gothic tale told in a film noir style, it's based on a novel by Percy Shelly, so you know it’s a bit twisted. It’s a mystery, a murder drama, a morality tale, and a swashbuckler, full of sex, violence, and lots of smoke and dim lighting. I had a blast.

Zastrozzi is a journey to the dark side where questions of morality aren’t so clear. It concerns a master criminal who wants to avenge the death of his mother. Unfortunately he is quite mad in his obsession and can’t sleep, haunted by dreams where he can’t stop smiling. Yes, it’s a comedy too. They found a charismatic English actor, Philippe Brenninkmeyer (he also speaks fluent German like any proper villain in the '40s when the action is placed), who preens, drinks, and murders, all in clipped speech. Delicious.

Brenninkmeyer has great support from the rest of the cast. Anna Khaja (winner of the LA Weekly Award for Best Solo Performance in 2007) is the trouble vamp of the piece, who only wants a good whipping. She is sexy, great with a sword, menacing, and delightful. Drake Simpson is Zastrozzi’s sidekick thug, a criminal through and through who doesn’t flinch when confronted by violence. I really enjoyed his whole manner – casual but threatening.

Holly Persell is very funny as the “virgin’ whose mere presence drives men to distraction. Alex Robert Holmes plays the painter Verezzi, who is just waiting for God to speak to him and provide him followers.  The object of Zastrozzi’s obsession, he eventually finds out he is a mere mortal. Bob Morrisey is his usual excellent self, acting as Verezzi’s faithful manservant but only because he made a promise to protect him. His task is made that much more difficult by Verezzi’s religious mania and Zastrozzi’s endless quest for revenge. It should be said that everyone except Ms. Persell is required to fence, and they pull it off very well. The fight choreographer is Victor Warren who deserves kudos for a job well done.

Lancey Anzelc is the designer of the wondrous gothic castle-like set. The beautiful, moody lighting is by Luke Moyer, the costumes by Curtis C.,  and the creepy sound design by Jonathan Zenz. The directors are Sara Botsford and Christopher “CB” Brown, who also produce (as 49th Parallel) along with Open At The Top Productions. Ms Botsford and Mr. Brown have made it their goal to introduce Canadian playwrights to the LA audience. I, for one, am delighted.

Zastrozzi plays at The NoHo Arts Center through August 27th. Go see it and have a ball.

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