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REVIEW: Grunion Gazette on Ubu The Sh*t

We wonder how many readers realize what a top-notch theater department we have right here in Long Beach.

Not only does our COTA (College of the Arts) set the standards for all 36 California State University campuses; the theater department alone has a solid reputation that stretches all the way to the East Coast — which helps explain why so many Ivy League graduates apply to study here.

Add to that superb instruction, direction, marketing and production skills — plus a professional theater (Cal Rep) in the theater art’s graduate program — and it’s easy to see why serious theater students flock to Long Beach.

Another little known fact is how many graduates are employed as actors in local productions, plus how many graduates direct them, and how many start new theaters of their own. Our mind leaps immediately to The Garage Theatre, and the Alive Theatre, which have joined forces.

And then there’s Jeremy Aluma, who helped found the Alive Theatre many years ago. When Aluma directed “Four Clowns” the first time, it included four clowns (angry, sad, nervous and mischievous), each with its own set of special clown techniques. Aluma was so impressed with his discovery of new theatrical ways to express emotions and ideas, he broke away to start his “Four Clowns” school in Los Angeles.

Which brings us, at long last, to our review of “Ubu, The Sh*t,” an Aluma adaptation of a work by Alfred Jarry called “Ubu The King” — written in 1896 at the height of what scholars have labeled “Absurdist Theater.”

But first, two more thoughts: Society has come a long way since comedian George Carlin got called on the carpet for uttering “one of seven words that must never be said in public.” In fact today, you can’t turn on the television, go to the movies, or buy a publication without seeing, hearing, or reading those seven repeatedly.

Add the long list of plays that have graphic sexual content in them, and it’s no wonder that the CSULB theater department agreed with Aluma that new, more aggressive, stage techniques would be appropriate — indeed, instructive — for anyone interested in acting.

And were they ever. From the opening scene where the ensemble entered like uncontrolled, wild animals who are shouting the F-word and the S-word over and over again to strains of “Carmina Burana,” followed by knocking down the fourth wall, it is blatantly obvious that “Ubu” will be a breakthrough experience for the cast and audience.

Everything about Jarry’s original version is foul, unpredictable, disorderly, and dangerous. There is no justification or rationale for any action except greed, power, and carnal lust — just as it is today in our present, chaotic world. And Aluma’s adaptation adroitly captures that tenor.

The risque costumes are outrageous, the music is ear-splitting rap (the kind that kids love), and each masked actor plays many in-your-face parts — too many to identify “who” is portraying “whom.” All we can name are Jamar Love, Montana Bull, Tyler Bremer, and Rob Bergman, each of whom is outstanding.

At the end of the two-hour, “let-it-all-hang-out exercise,” the cast had a unique learning experience; while some people in the sold-out audience (perhaps an older generation of theater-lovers) wished Aluma had realized a cardinal rule in play-writing, “Know when to stop! You can’t put everything you know in one production.”

- Shirle Gottlieb
Grunion Gazette

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