LA WEEKLY 6-7-12

"Theater Review: Astral Dick"

by Rebecca Haithcoat

No need to read Kierkegaard or Camus -- playwright James Mathers neatly breaks down the trio of resolutions at which the absurdist philosophers believed humans arrive during their search for meaning in the world. In some distant future, two detectives investigate a death they believe is tied to a cult-like religious sect worshipping the "AnarChrist." It's a by-the-book interpretation of absurdism: subtitling his world premiere "a play in three acts," Mathers clicks off suicide, religion and, finally, acceptance that life is meaningless. Kaytlin Borgen's luminous, wild-eyed performance is exhilarating, providing the thrill that motivates most of us to press on (or check out) despite the general monotony of life. Mathers' strict adherence to form is -- like life -- often tedious, though that's probably the point. Directed by Hanna Hall. Carbon Copy Productions at Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Lodge, Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through June 10.


Hanna Hall talks about her childhood stardom and the play she's directing (Astral Dick by James Mathers)...


"Theater Review: Astral Dick"  

by Roger Linnett  

As director Hanna Hall writes in the program’s Director’s Note, “Chaos represents the thread in the universe that allows humanity free will. Even though it is wild and unpredictable, it is part of the human condition.” 

And from the opening scene of James Mathers new play, when a crazed, ranting woman (Laura Peters) crawls into an oven, in a sort of extreme Sylvia Plath maneuver, you kind of wish your seat had a safety belt because you’re definitely going down the rabbit-hole. 

Enter the Homicide Detectives -- The Captain (Paul Tei) and his psychic sidekick, the eponymous “Astral Dick”, Lt. Leo Fleck (Marc Hickox), a parapsychological detective, i.e., a medium with a badge, under the recreationally abusive guidance of his captain, to investigate what they ultimately determine, by way of a fluid Abbot and Costello-style repartee, is the work of a serial killer -- and that’s one of the more rational scenes. 

Hall uses every inch of the compact Electric Lodge stage, accented by perfectly-executed lighting, to create a modernist noir reality upon which this existential mixing of terror and freedom struts and frets, framed by a nondescript hodgepodge of architectural styles and extraneous objects, complementing the sparse, multi-functional set pieces. 

The use of wooden orange crates adds a playful, almost childlike, quality to the set. 

Occasionally, amateurish Mummenschanz-like figures attempt to surreptitiously deliver to, or take props from, the characters, who continue unfazed, adding another delicious layer to this tiramisu of absurdity. 

The use of pre-recorded audio as Lt. Fleck communes with the Captain from his “astral plane,” synchronized to the action on stage, helps draw the audience into the screwball multi-dimensionality of Mathers’ tour de farce. 

After the Captain is “killed” at the end of Act I, the intrepid, albeit insipid, Lt. Fleck, wracked by totally over-the-top anguish, vows to find his killer. As he says: “I’m a dick. It’s my job to know things.” 

The play is billed as a whodunit, but in the end it doesn’t really seem to matter that the mystery isn’t solved as Fleck’s investigation leads him into a web of sex and religion. One he wants, the other he despises, but at times you can’t tell which. 

The subject/object of his investigation/desire is one Marlo Montecarlo (Kaytlin Borgen): “It rhymes and it’s alliterative,” she points out. 

Abetted by her conniving, lascivious mother, Bunny (Rachel Robinson), Marlo sets her sights on the tall, dark and handsome, but conflicted Lt. Fleck. Then things get really kinky. (I’d just like to add a personal note to Mr. Mathers -- Thanks for undoing years of therapy with that damned Sock Monkey (the late, crispy Laura Peters)). 

Fleck’s interrogation of the cult leader Master Jeshu (Dan Lawler) and his sycophantic minions (Skyler Millicano and Jessica Farr) is a glib send-up of every bad cop show or movie you ever saw, and made even zanier by the appearance of their attorney Stan (Jordan Byrne), the best Satan incarnate smarmy lawyer since Al Pacino in "The Devil’s Advocate." 

The finale is a Fellini-esque amalgam of bodies, and amid all the craziness is a “message,” but it’s up to each audience member to figure out what that is after they emerge from Mathers’ darkly-wacky world. 

Astral Dick will be performed at The Electric Lodge, 1415 Electric Ave., Venice for the next two weekends: May 31-June 3 and June 7-10. Thu., Fri., Sat. evenings at 8p.m. and a Sun. matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20, and are available at or at the door. 


"How's Business? So What Surf 'n' Skate Shop Mixes Philosophy with Fun"

by Ali Murtaza
Photo by Briana Diamond

Topanga's Old Center plaza sees more change as Will Wicks starts his own surf shop.

First shop on the left, two doors down from recent pop-up art shop, ART, Will Wicks' So What Surf n' Skate Shop opened its doors with a promising new line for those who would rather pick up a board locally and support local commerce than drive miles to find other products.

"This shop is for people who need last-minute accessories for the beach but would rather not travel to the Valley or deep into Malibu," says Wicks. Since opening, he has seen his vision fulfilled, adding that he has been embraced by most of the local surfing community.

"Our boards have been a success, another step in making Topanga a surf city once again," he says. He looks up to Paul Lovas' Topanga Beach Experience calling it "the surf hangout, groovy place to be away from LA."

So runs the motto of the new space that carries wetsuits for men, women and children, as well as custom hand-shaped surfboards with skateboards and rental gear for those caught without a board or for people wanting to learn surfing.

Ever since he first started to ride waves in 2002, he has dreamed of opening a surf shop. He now stands in the reality of that dream, 10 years in the making, and could not be prouder, except for the fact that he'll be a parent come next Christmas with Bekah Bourget, a local fashion designer and owner of Indio Eight boutique.

The name came about through something he has long held within his heart, a philosophy on life and surfing: "’So what?’ is a great thing to say when faced with life's challenges whether it's riding a big wave or dealing with people," he says. He pauses and reflects, then comes back with a smile and explanation: “Don’t take things so seriously, have fun, live life, for it can all be gone in a second.”

The casual laid-back approach to life that Wicks promotes is not only a staple of the California surf culture, but a cry of Topangans tracing back over years of the lifestyle.

He says that he has heard countless locals thank him for not having to drive miles out of the Canyon and feels that customers like these will be essential to him in the coming months and years.

Though he is a Topangan, some of Wicks' skills can be traced back to West Hills, where his mentor, Glen Kennedy, makes his own surfboards. He is grateful to have learned what he did with Glen and his family, not only for the skills that they helped him hone, but also the way of life, deep-rooted philosophies that passed from one surfboard maker to another.

When asked about the surf culture in Topanga, Wicks states, "The surf culture in Topanga is as free as the ocean," describing the calm he feels when surrounded by the waves and the same calm that he senses in the other Topangans and surfers.

"Some surfers only go out when the surf is big and good," he says. “Others surf almost everyday rain, shine, swell or no swell. There is the older generation, their offspring and the offsprings’ offspring. There are visitors who want to experience the amazing point break. All these are the people that Wicks admires and wants to accommodate. Yes, it is about Topanga, but it is more about the love of surfing and beyond that, the sea itself.

Wicks has seen more than Topangans around his shop lately including Malibu residents, commuters and even visitors from other countries. Advertising has garnered more interest, he says, “and shows we're not just some scrappy town; we actually have culture and roots that are pretty cool.

The business is still growing but his philosophy dictates that he not worry about it. Spoken like a true surfer, he simply says, "I'm just taking it day by day," and as if to test him, his road-side sign was recently bashed to pieces. He didn't go into a rage. Rather, he laughed it off with his friends while making a new sign, but he would like to know who the vandals are who didn't have the courage to confront him. Such shenanigans don't deter him because he feels that he has the support of the community.
He tries to express his gratitude but is reluctant to try to name everyone — there are simply too many. In general, he thanks the Canyon and all its residents who have supported him through this endeavor and who have appreciated his hand-made boards.

Two people he did name, however, were Jeff Hull and Jerry from Ventura showing him the ins and outs to completing surfboards at production value and good quality.

For everything else, he only needs his planer and sure-form, an experienced eye for symmetry that he has acquired over the years, lots of elbow grease and even more patience.

So What Surf n' Skate Shop is located at the Old Topanga Town Center, 115 South Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290; (310) 455-0101;

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