Not a Review: The Late Late Show at Bootleg
I try to see everything labeled ‘environmental/immersive/ambulatory’ that pops up in Los Angeles because I feel it’s the coolest thing theater has going for it. No other form can make you stand up, walk around, touch, feel, smell and throw yourself into a story or experience like the present art of theater. TV and video games can’t do that, and never will (my apologies to Virtual Boy.) And yet, how do we spend our time at plays? Silent, seated, hands folded or clutching a program, policing the behavior of other paying patrons, and counting the minutes until the intermission brings renal release. Artists and companies which go out of their way to stretch and mangle the frozen boxes where we usually imbibe our drama are doing us and the art form a great service, because they are giving audiences something they can’t get from a screen, something undeniably now, with more dimension and perspective than can be achieved while sitting down.
I don’t even need a good story or motif to go along. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal is immensely popular, and disregarding the dubious cultural value of putting on a latex mask and startling someone enough to shit their pants, you can’t deny that such experiences can be visceral and even horrifying, when effective. Fold in the true artistry of art design, base it on Shakespeare, and show me some naked acrobats dousing each other in blood in a strobe light, and I’m going to enjoy it a lot more than a $400 seat to Bette Midler’s one-woman show.
I really enjoyed the Bootleg’s latest ambulatory offering, ‘The Late Late Show’ by and starring Paul Outlaw as an immortal former slave who croons throughout the ages, in three distinct settings placed throughout the former brazier factory. Starting in the 40’s in an illegal gin joint in downtown LA, we hear the story of the hundred year-old vampire entertainer Perry Cooper sung through standards and original songs – stories of his mixed patronage, harsh treatment, delicious homosexual encounters, and perspectives on the nightlife of a city famous for its sun. We follow him then into a twenty-third century concrete-florescent Colosseum of a dance club, where Cooper has quasi-reverted to his slave name of Porphyria to perform a show before his final sunrise alongside two half naked white boys bound to him by his magic blood. Then we proceed outside, where we watch the young slave escape bondage and potentially life by hiding in a coffin, buried in a swamp, only to rise again and join the abolitionist movement.
The motif of the persistent memory of the cruel and tangled injustices of American chattel slavery was borne perfectly by the concept of the vampire freeman. That Outlaw couches that bloody memory in the dual underground musical traditions of jazz and EDM nailed home how those crimes doomed their victims and their descendants to a marginalized existence (but often avant-garde in their expression) long after Sherman’s march. And again, the chance to walk from one set to the next, moving through time and space with the story, each time reacquainting ourselves with our drastically new circumstances, suited this show in particular, and made excellent use of my favorite theater space in the city. Great sound design, the band was good, the booze is always tight. I highly recommend it.
I’ll add this info to help the production but not because this is a review:
12 Performances Only, October 31 – November 23, Thursday / Friday / Saturday, 7:30 pm sharp
Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057