There simply aren’t any scaly, fire-breathing, flesh-and-blood dragons left for an Englishman to slay. To prove oneself a hero, then, a champion capable of taking a stand against an implacable, terrifying foe, is nearly impossible in this modern world. Except, that is, in the world of soul-crushing middle-class British desperation created by Steven Berkoff in his play “West.”
The play is rendered in verse, which Berkoff uses to great effect–adding dashes of Shakespeare throughout to create stark, vivid imagery. Here the dragon takes two forms: The literal one which must be faced by Knight in Shining Armor Mike (Brad Schmidt), a London gang leader, who is the notoriously savage leader of a rival gang (Joshua Schell) who has challenged him to a one-on-one, winner-take-all fistfight to settle the matter of a murdered comrade. Far more pernicious, though, is the dragon of hopelessness that permeates Mike’s existence: From the pointless aggression of his gang buddies, to his forlorn girlfriend (Annie Burgstede), to the long-vanished love of his weak, obstreperous father, there is simply no better place for him to vent his rage than against a brutal, potentially lethal, enemy.
Where the production passes into brilliance is in the deft, agile way that director Bruce Cooper stages the play with nothing more than a handful of chairs and his actor’s gifts. The climactic fight, choreographed by Joe Sofranko, is so effective that you can almost hear noses being crushed and see blood fly. Although Venice’s Electric Lodge Theatre can be tricky to find, this is a production to seek out and be awed by.
“West” performs Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm through February 6th at the Electric Lodge Theatre (1416 Electric Ave., Venice, CA 90291). Tickets are $15 for students and $20 general admission. For reservations, call (310) 823-0710 or go to www.hellion-pictures.com/west.