BREAK THE WHIP: 56% – Bittersweet [UPDATED]

Photos: Giselle Jones and Chris Schultz. Credit: Ryan Sheffer

BITTER
The spectacle elements stand apart. You can sense the workshop participants’ enthusiasm for their full ensemble Bantu chant and response, or chase scenes through rippling, handheld strips of blue fabric. But all this pageantry outlasts both its utility to the drama and its welcome. An overall Commedia dell’Arte look promises physical expansiveness and wit or, at least, knockabout humor, which the thesps never quite deliver.
Bob Verini – Variety

BITTER
Actually, Robbins never tries to establish the same degree of overall realism that Nottage goes for in Ruined. His actors wear commedia-inspired masks throughout and engage in intermittent commedia shtick. Too bad that none of these distracting sequences work as either comic relief or as commentary on the more sobering stuff.
Don Shirley – LA Stage Watch

BITTER
One gets the impression that Robbins was following his intellectual bliss. But drama, which feeds on collision and conflict, requires artists to also go against their own grain.
Charles McNulty – LA Times

SWEET
An Academy Award winning actor, Robbins has a cinematic sensibility, as well as a theatrical aesthetic, which he overall skillfully combines in Whip. Above all, in this parable about colonial America, Robbins’ well known progressive politics win the day, with a rare depiction of a maroon community of escaped slaves and Natives, plus indentured whites, as the prototype of a “better future” for all Americans. But this elusive “Beloved Community” of equal rights for all is yet to be. Among other profound things, the 29-year-old Actors’ Gang’s do not miss Whip reminds us that same sex marriage is to 21st century America what interracial marriage was to 17th century Jamestown.
Ed Rampell – LA Progressive

BITTERSWEET
In Coriolanus, Shakespeare arrives at his view of history through a stark view of the impoverished masses, of those in power, and of those in between. Shakespeare’s view may seem more despondent than Robbins’, but it nonetheless contains an implicit call to rethink the way we think, and act. Brecht comes close to hitting that mark of sophistication. Robbins’ view is comparatively slender and partisan.
Steven Leigh Morris – LA Weekly

SWEET
“Break the Whip” is a lively crack at history that looks beyond the privileged few.
Jana J. Monji – LA Examiner

SWEET
Commedia dell’Arte originated in Italy in the mid-16th century, and features masked actors who represent “types,” such as the resourceful servant (Harlequino), the clever maid (Colombina), the wealthy but immoral merchant (Pantalone), and so forth. It’s a theatrical style not often done in the theaters in L A, and it’s worth going to this show simply to see something different. But “Break the Whip” is more than just different; it’s also original, engrossing, and profoundly moving.
Marianne Fritz – Socal.com

SWEET
When doing a huge undertaking like this, it is quite easy to break into stereotypes but in this case, all the characters have been fully developed with their own emotional and physical characteristics, with their entire bodies engaged in expressing the text. Robbins has done an outstanding directorial feat in tying together all of the complicated elements, including using Jamestown Music by David Robbins and the New Anarchestra, Angolan tribal dance, complex shadow puppetry, and elements of the Commedia dell’ Arte style of theatre in developing some of the characters. He has succeeded in creating a truly rare evening of theatre.
Beverly Cohn – LASplash

SWEET
Robbins dazzles with an unusually large cast for the Gang, shadow puppetry, song-and-dance numbers, Native American and African languages performed with graceful fluency, and creative costuming crowned with masks at home in a Venetian carnival. The actors are uniformly up to the demands of both comedy and poignancy, with familiar Gang performer Steven M. Porter outdoing himself in a dual role as a wealthy landowner and a Native American chief that demonstrates his remarkable versatility: smarmy, buffoonish, yet sinister as Master Loney, and wise, human, benevolent as Sakima.
Frederik Sisa – The Front Page Online

BITTER
Three distinct languages are spoken to wonderful effect—a choice that reminds us of the multicultural origins of America. But throw in masks, commedia dell’arte slapstick, and the focus-stealing choice to have all 20-plus actors visible at all times—when not part of a scene, they are situated in deliberately exposed wings, changing, stretching, and otherwise acting out of character—and the story goes south. The fact that the play emerged out of a workshop exercise is glaringly obvious; it feels like a workshop piece that has not yet reached the production phase.
Amy Lyons – Backstage

“Break the Whip,” The Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd. Culver City. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. Ends Nov. 13. $15 to $25, RSVP (310) 838-4264.  Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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