LOLPERA: OUT OF THE GARAGE AND ON THE ROAD, IT FEELS … DIFFERENTBy Greggory Moore
Taken ipso facto, the production of LOLPERA that’s happening the next two Sundays as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival is a must-see for anyone who missed its world-premiere run at the Garage Theatre. But for those who saw the original production, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the two versions. And on the whole, the new version is more of a lateral move than a step forward.
LOLPERA is still the story of a dystopian society looking for spiritual sustenance—in LOLspeak, “cheezburger”—in all the wrong places. Astro Cat (Michael Burdge) has been shot into space to find it. Citizens seek it online through a cycle of producing and consuming vapidly cute cat pictures
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“LOLOPERA” ADDS ONE MORE SUNDAY TO ITS HOLLYWOOD STAY
LOLPERA, which has sold every seat in the Hudson Theatre during a run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival that was scheduled to end this Sunday (July 24), has earned one more show on one more Sunday (July 1) at 5 p.m.
The opera’s co-creators, Ellen Warkentine and Andrew Pedroza, announced the additional performance during their appearance Thursday evening on Greater Long Beach Radio with Dave Wielenga, which this week also featired featured GreaterLongBeach.com theatre critic Greggory Moore as a co-host. (See below for information.)
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If that sounds a bit like our 21st-century world, well, duh—LOLPERA was inspired by the icanhascheezburger.com phenomenon. It features a libretto (including LOLcat pix ‘n’ all, projected on a screen, à la operatic supertitles) composed entirely of LOLcat captions.
Ellen Warkentine and Andrew Pedroza’s (LN&AND) masterstroke was to flip the phenomenon on its head, creating a full-blown, self-reflexive opera from extant Internet memes—set to musical ones of their own creation—where a bunch of LOLcats (and a LOLrus) made human flesh play out an ironically meaningful cautionary tale of the dangers inherent to a world where we seek out meaning in the meaningless. If that doesn’t sound wonderful, then blame it on my description.
The contextual plot begins with a creation myth: In the beginning, Ceiling Cat (Steve Sornbutnark) created teh Earths n stuffz, and can haz light, and light wuz. Now it’s a future that looks a lot like an exaggerated today, a time when the Internets is a series of tubes transmittin cats qua lolz. It’s a serious business whose public face is Happy Cat (Alie Gibbons), though the behind-the-scenes power is Serious Cat (Ashley Allen), who shortly becomes seduced by former Ceiling Cat BFF Basement Cat (Angel Correa). Into the litter wanders Dreamer Cat (Andrew Pedroza), who dreams big despite his little paws; and LOLrus (Anthony Pedroza), who has a bukkit. And never forget: Ceiling Cat is watching you masturbate.
The cast is as great as ever. The Pedroza brothers display limitless exuberance and get most of the big laughs (although there’s so many it’s hard to keep track). Correa’s role has been expanded, and his amazing ability to project without seeming like he’s trying makes him a joy to see. Allen’s role, however, has been scaled back, and considering how great she was in the initial run, this feels like a loss.
That’s a recurring problem with this production: for every gain made from a change, there seems to be an offsetting loss.
For example, although LN&AND have done a better job forwarding the idea of the commodification of empty memes as substances (such as through some Happy Cat promotional videos), in trying to offer additional explanation of how Basement Cat gets out of the Basement, they’ve merely drawn attention to a weak point in the writing.
The handling of Happy Cat’s mother, Gutter Cat (Dinah Steward), is another case in point. In the original production, Gutter Cat was sort of an instigator of the eventual rebellion against LOLcat Corp. (until she becomes dispirited) whose relationship with her son was not well defined. In this version, the Happy/Gutter relationship is much stronger, but now that Gutter has been relegated to a sort of Sunday School teacher, her role in the action is marginalized—even though LN&AND employ her new fate as one of the pieces of action that helps clarify why Happy Cat eventually defects from the dark side.
Elsewhere, the search for cheezburger is more clearly underlined this time around, but in Act Two, when Astro Cat is running around as a sort of field reporter (?) saying, “Where the fuck am I?” audience members are wondering the same thing.
I know from LN&AND that some trimming was done out of concerns over repetition and length (the original show ran roughly two-and-a-half hours), and while at times this seemed unproblematic, at others it felt like something was missing. To co-opt a belief of Roger Ebert’s, no great play is too long, and no bad play is too short.
Whatever the reason, two of my favorite musical numbers (centering, respectively, around Happy Cat’s first day on the job and preparations for the big showdown between good and evil) were not as strong as before. Part of this may be due to a factor out of LN&AND’s control: staging this show at the Hudson Theatre, which lacks some of the resources of the Garage Theatre. The Hollywood Fringe production is running basically without a set and with minimal lighting cues, differences that result in far less feeling of place and control of mood.
The change of venue may also have something to do with some of the choreography being less interesting. These two numbers seemed to lack something musically (i.e., when compared to the original. I don’t expect anyone hearing them for the first time would have any complaints), but there is no question neither is as visually dynamic (particularly the latter) as formerly.
Make no mistake: this is a great, great show. If I had seen LOLPERA for the first time last Sunday, these 1,000 words would be all ravery. But I have seen it before (thrice), and I know what LOLPERA can be and wants to be. And as great as the current iteration is, and as much as you’ll be a lucky girl if you can get one of the few remaining tickets, bigger and better things lie ahead.
LOLPERA THE HUDSON THEATRE • 6539 SANTA MONICA BLVD • HOLLYWOOD 90038 • 323.856.4249 HOLLYWOODFRINGE.ORG/PROJECTS/913 • SUN, JUNE 17 3PM & 7PM; SUN, JUNE 24 3PM; SUN, JULY 1, 5 PM • $10 (DUDE!) • THROUGH JULY 1